Reflection for Sunday, May 1, 2016 by Eleanor Rabnett
For printable version: Reflection for Ascension Sunday May 1 2016
First Reading: Acts 1.1-11
Second Reading: Ephesians 1.17-23
Gospel: Luke 24.46-53
Preparing for this reflection on the Feast of the Ascension has been an exciting journey and experience. I must admit that in the past I have sometimes glossed over this Feast Day – perhaps by being too busy, or waiting for Pentecost and the gifts of the Holy Spirit – by somehow taking it for granted – whatever the reason I missed a great deal of it. In my preparations I’ve found myself amazed at the depth and richness of the readings.
This piece of the Paschal Mystery has as much importance and depth as the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. It is the next step and continues to lead all of us in surrender, trust and then out into mission. And even though it is 40 days later – it is integral with Easter – a most intimate part of it.
Today in Acts – Luke speaks to the mission of the Church when Jesus says to the apostles: “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. Then Jesus is taken from their sight. A promise, a last instruction – and then – a sending out by Jesus to the world. Richard Fuller who writes for the St. Louis University Sunday Website, speaks of this as the inauguration of the ‘Church’s mission’.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians speaks of the Church’s growth in wisdom and knowledge and he continues speaking of the kingship of Christ. He too is speaking to ‘mission’. Fuller suggests that the New Testament views Christ’s kingship as exercised in two concentric circles. The inner circle embraces the Church, where his kingship is known and acknowledged: the outer circle embraces the world, where he is de-facto king but his kingship is not yet recognized. The church’s function is to extend that inner circle to cover more and more of the outer one.
And just as the reading from Acts was looking backwards, the Gospel is most definitely looking forward. In the Gospel Jesus has “opened their minds to understand the scriptures”. He is saying goodbye to his disciples for this is the end of his ‘earthly’ mission. He blesses them, and is ‘taken to his Father’.
The Ascension of Christ – a mystery that is hard for any of us to describe – it is in fact quite beyond words. With the Ascension there is an ending – the flesh and blood of Jesus has been taken from the disciples. But at the same time there is the beginning of something new. The disciples were filled with joy – they knew that they had a God from whom nothing could separate them any more. For them (just as it is for us) to die is not to go out into the darkness; it is to go to God.
It is this that allows them to let go of the physical presence of Jesus, to praise God, to wait for the Spirit of God that is to come as they have been told and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus – doing what he did while on earth.
They were letting go of Jesus in a very real way as they allowed him to ascend to heaven, to go to the Father, and as they returned to Jerusalem to praise God and wait for God’s Spirit to come to them – to go out and continue what he had begun.
There is a noticeable commonality in today’s readings. They are all about “mission”. A friend recently shared that to him the disciples stepped up and took ownership of the mission God had given them. That’s what the Ascension is all about. It’s another piece in this magnificent living Paschal Mystery. Not a one-time event that took place 2000 years ago, but something that lives on in the now, in our time.
We need to now look at how we are witnesses to Christ our Saviour. What does this look in our lives? My friend also mentioned that it has to be more than just reading the scriptures, or going to Bible Study, more than coming together to pray once a week.
In AA we say that we cannot settle for just ‘talking the talk’ – we have to ‘walk the walk’.
What is our part in all of this, yours and mine? How do we take ownership of what God calls us to? How do we continue to step up and say yes – to walk the walk?