5 June 2011
Mt 28:16 -20
A few years a certain man was driving along in his car and suddenly another car came out of a side street and collided with the car in front of him. He went to court as a witness and although the lawyers of the driver who caused the accident tried to show that this witness may not have seen things exactly as they happened, he simply kept repeating what he saw. He spoke from his personal experience of the accident and he was so convincing as he never changed what he said no matter how often he was questioned, the judge was in no doubt that he was telling things exactly as he had witnessed them.
Today’s feast of the Ascension is a call to the disciples of Jesus to be witnesses to all the world of what they experienced when they were with him while he was still alive. It is interesting that today’s gospel from St.Matthew does not focus on the Ascension as such but on the sending of the apostles to carry out his mission to make disciples of all nations. What matters about the Ascension is not so much about how it happened as to what it means, namely that the time of visible Jesus on earth is ended for he is now in glory in heaven. It is now the time of the apostles and the Church.
For the apostles the Ascension obviously meant three things:
It was an ending. One stage had finished and another had begun. The day when their faith was faith in a flesh and blood person, Jesus of Nazareth has gone. Their faith depended on his being with them physically. Now they are linked to someone who is forever independent of space and time.
But it was equally a beginning. The disciples did not leave the scene heartbroken. They left it with great joy. Now they knew they had a master from whom they would never be separated. Did he not say: ‘And know that I am with you always to the end of time.’ So rather than seeing the Ascension just as the departure of Jesus we should see it as the sending of the Church on mission (you, me and all Christians). We are being asked to take the place of Jesus. Wow! Rather than seeing the Church as an orphan it should be seen as being given adult status, being given the responsibility to witness to Jesus Christ. That is how much trust and confidence Jesus has in us to continue his work.
Still further, the Ascension gives the disciples the certainty that they had a friend not only on earth but also in heaven. Surely it is the most priceless thing of all to know and feel that in heaven there awaits us that self-same Jesus who on earth was so marvellously kind. To die is not to go out into the dark; it is to go to him.
In the story at the beginning it was the personal experience of the man who witnessed the accident that gave him the assurance to witness clearly and simply. So too for us as Christians we will be able to witness to Jesus only to the extent of our own personal experience of him. What then is the extent of my personal relationship to Jesus? Do I allow him to be a true friend, someone to whom I feel close? Does my personal experience of what he has done for me in my life make me want to share my knowledge of him with others? It is like a young man who has fallen in love and keeps on telling his friends about his girlfriend. He feels more alive because of her. Is it like that with Jesus and me? If not maybe I should pray to have this personal experience of him.
The first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that Jesus informed the apostles that they were not to leave Jerusalem but to wait there for what the Father had promised, in other words to be baptised with the Holy Spirit. It was as if Jesus was telling them very clearly that unless they had this Holy Spirit they could not possibly witness to him, as he would have wished them to. It is almost as if he is telling them. ‘Please, please, do not claim to be my disciples, my followers if you try to do this without the help of the powerful Holy Spirit because it is impossible without his help’. Trying to be a disciple of Jesus, a close follower of his is just not possible without the Holy Spirit whom we receive in Baptism and Confirmation. But whether we are aware of this and live out of this reality is another thing altogether.
The first reading also tells us that when Jesus ascended into heaven the apostles were gazing into the sky as he was taken from their sight. But the two men in white standing there ask ‘Why are you men from Galilee standing here looking into the sky?’ They are being told clearly that the Ascension rather than pointing to the skies directs the believers attention to the vast horizon of their mission on earth.
One very consoling fact in the gospel is that when the apostles saw him as he was about to ascend they fell down before him, though some hesitated. This phrase, ‘though some hesitated’ gives each of us so much courage and hope. That even though we may have certain doubts and hesitations about some aspects of our faith, these in themselves are no barriers to God using us. He sent out some hesitant apostles to be his witnesses. Can he not do the same with us if we offer ourselves to him?
‘Lord Jesus, help us to be true witnesses to you on earth with the help of the powerful Holy Spirit. Amen’
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA