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Ascension (B)
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Readings for the Ascension of the Lord, Cycle B

1. Acts 1, 1-11

  • It isn’t often that the other readings overshadow the Gospel passage of the day.  This is one of those times, and next week at Pentecost we will notice the same rare phenomenon.  All the more reason for me to prepare carefully and know how I intend to steer the reading.
  • Jesus presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he suffered.  There are several New Testament traditions about his appearances.  The one that begins Acts is the classical passage that I return to today.  The disciples are told to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of my Father. 
  • The gift of the Spirit to them takes center stage.  I hear it repeated three times: instructions through the Holy Spirit, baptized with the Holy Spirit, power from the Holy Spirit.  Something is about to change and they are being alerted.  Whatever is going to happen, the Holy Spirit will be at the center of it.  This is what Jesus wants them to remember, and he will not allow digressions about political strategy and other temporal concerns.  I can hear him saying: “What did I tell you?  Just in case someone is listening, this is what’s going to happen…”
  • The common thread of the reading is the transitional (by no means the final) lesson of Jesus.  He is giving instructions, enjoining and answering their questions.  I am impressed by the way Luke hints at the transition, through the multiple scenes of the appearances, the gatherings, and above all the going up and coming down of Jesus.  With my pauses I can clarify this 40-day period of intense coming to awareness for my listeners.
  • Toward the end we finally get to the Ascension: And he was lifted up.  So is the actual ascension of Jesus to God an afterthought today?  By no means: It is the closing of one stage of salvation history and the beginning of another: You will receive power.  It is a pivotal moment in the mystery of the church as well as in the exaltation of Jesus.
  • And it was pivotal for the disciples.  Once again they were looking at the sky, waiting for their teacher.  This is the ending that everyone here thinks they remember from their catechism, while they forget that it is a beginning.
  • Central point: Not Jesus alone but us with him.  Not the Messianic figure they expected but the one who is to come.  And we will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.  That includes everyone I see in the assembly, by the way!
  • Message for our assembly: Why are you standing there looking?  The angel speaks to the wistful disciples, but could as easily be speaking to us with our minds wrapped up in mere dreams or appearances.  Here is the stranger assuring us again of simple truths.  Yes, Jesus will return in the same way.  My words are assuring today.
  • I will challenge myself: to return the focus to us.  This is a leave taking.  But it is also a beginning of a new dynamic.   I will make my reading a fitting beginning of the Book of Acts, so that all of will understand it as the beginning of a new age. 

2. Ephesians 4, 1-13

  • I urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.  In all these apostolic letters, our faith and our conduct in the world go hand in hand. 
  • I hear a litany of worthy conduct: humility and gentleness, patience, love and perseverance in unity.  All of these virtues help to strengthen a community.  What kind of unity?  The unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. 
  • After this comes an emphasis on the unity of everything.  One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.  The unity of creation, and our awareness of it, is what leads us to evangelize the world. 
  • Just as in the famous passage from I Corinthians, we also acknowledge diversity, according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  The circumstances?  The next words prompted the church to proclaim this passage today: He ascended on high and gave gifts.   He ascended far above the heavens, that he might fill all things.
  • The charisms the apostle mentions, of apostles, prophets, evangelists, go mainly to the leaders of communities.  As for the others, the holy ones, they are prepared for ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
  • The message for our assembly: We all pay more attention than we should to the leaders among us.  The apostle includes everyone in ministry, and so did Vatican II.  Our calling is the extent of the full stature of Christ.
  • I will challenge myself: To build with each succeeding clause to those final words, reminding my listeners that this reading gives us our marching orders.

Gospel.  Mark 16, 15-20

·        Here is another commissioning story, one that will not be as familiar to my listeners as that of Matthew.    

·        Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.  Which gospel?  The same gospel of Jesus Christ with which Mark began. 

  • Whoever believes and is baptized.  We are to evangelize, but it is for those listening to accept our word. 
  • These signs will accompany those who believe, which were probably attested in the early church.  I have heard about the serpent handlers and the poison drinkers, but I have seen counselors and healers who have changed the lives of others. 
  • The Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven.  He gave the disciples the mission before he left them.  Once again the scriptures bear witness to his ascending to the right hand of God.  This ascension is what gives the truth, the overwhelming urgency, to his mission statement.
  • Climax: Make disciples of all nations.  We do not stand still, waiting for Jesus to do it all and keeping his Good News to ourselves.
  • Message for our assembly: There are signs today, and they endure among us.  Let us trace them back to the risen Christ.
  • I will challenge myself: to find the way the risen Christ would speak to his disciples to turn them into fearless apostles for his Good News.  Our church needs to hear that voice today.

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