Reflections on the Readings
May 12, 2013 - The Ascension of the Lord - Year C
An Easter Farewell...Until
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven.
We do not have great joy when we are separated from someone we love. Especially this is true at the loss of a loved one to death. This brings us pain and sorrow. We know that tomorrow we will wake up without their smile or phone call or daily presence in our lives. Yet, as Jesus ascends into heaven, his closest followers attended his departure into heaven with reverence and great joy. Why is this? How can this be? Is it not because he left them with a farewell filled with purpose and promise and peace?
Jesus explains to his disciples that they are witnesses. Mary, the Mother of Jesus is the foremost witness to his coming into the world. Mary said to Gabriel, "Let it be to me according to your word." With that fiat the Holy Spirit made Mary the dwelling place of the mystery of our salvation. She is the first witness of these things. Without her we would not know the goodness of God in the forgiveness of our sins. So Mary, along with all the apostles and the whole Church profess that 'For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.'
This is our faith. We are witnesses of this. God came down from heaven to love us, to show us his mercy, and to forgive us our sins. This is the good news we are invited to live with our lives and to share in our conversations with our family and friends. From his cradle in Bethlehem to his cross in Jerusalem, Christ descended into humanity's great abyss. Reaching his hand of mercy into the dark night of our separation from the Father he lifted us up into the Merciful Rays of his Sacred Heart. This is good news. It is a conversation that needs to be reignited in our hearts. In all the world, every where that man is, into every heart let us plant the seeds of amazing grace.
Many years ago I worked a short stint at doing sales by phone. My job was to contact pharmacies and to describe a new spill proof measuring spoon for dispensing liquid medicines. These spoons are common place today, but back then we were telling pharmacies that this would endear them to their customers. We wanted them to believe that moms would be loyal customers everafter their Pharmacist gave them a special no spill spoon to administer the medicine to their little bundles of joy. I didn't last long in that job. I became somewhat skeptical of being successful after a call to a Pharmacist in south Arkansas. He was kind in his own way and gently advised me that if I couldn't come in person to persuade him of the value of my product that he would not be interested. Something about those words from the Pharmacist struck a note deep in my deepness.
I think that God in his unfathomable depts of his selfness loved us from an old rugged cross. From the environs of His Holy Being, where the boundless mercies of Mercy is, there stood a Lamb who was slain. That Lamb came into the world to take away our sins. Not from afar off, but near, God came near, so near that Mary would kiss his face. And under the cross, Mary would catch his tears. We, the Church, are witnesses of these things, of the cross and of his resurrection on the third day, and of the forgiveness of sins he offers us. He became man and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. And now he appears in heaven itself as our Advocate and our Friend.
Pope Francis spoke about the Ascension recently. He explained that Christ did not abandon his followers. The Pope shared, "Jesus remains with them and, in the Father's glory, He sustains them, guides them, and intercedes for them." We have an Advocate at the right hand of the Father.
Jesus left his Church a promise as he ascended into heaven. He called it the Promise of my Father. We will explore this promise more fully on the Feast of Pentecost next Sunday. But Jesus' ascension assures us that through the Holy Spirit Jesus is not confined to one place in one period of time. Throughout the whole world the Holy Spirit is sent among us to bring us the friendship of Jesus. This is why we can pray, "Come, Holy Spirit. Guide us. Teach us. And Glorify Jesus."
To be a Christian, (whether a Catholic Christian or a Baptist Christian or a Pentecostal Christian,) to be a Christian is to be all about Jesus. The Holy Spirit helps us to know Christ and the love of his Father, in a powerful and deeply personal manner. The incomparable Friendship of the Holy Trinity is offered us and it is the Holy Spirit who will help us to know that Friendship.
Friendship with Jesus is what we really crave. Whether we know it or not, everyday the desire of every heart is to know true, deep, and unending Friendship. We may seek for it in all the wrong places or in all the wrong ways, but as surely as we have breath, Jesus is not very far away. He is as near as the mention of his name. And every day he's the same; he never changes. He invites us into his life. He will clothe us with power to love as he loves, to forgive one another as he forgives us, and to be his face, his voice, his hands. This is the Promise of the Father before there was Time. This is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe.
There is in Christ's Ascension a blessing of Peace. It is not a sentimental kind of peace, but rather it is a Peace that passes all understanding. God's peace builds bridges of faith, hope, and love. It is this peace that sustains us through trials and temptations. It is this peace that reconciles us to God and to one another.
We do not always avail ourselves of the benefits of Christ's peace. To our own hurt we may choose to be vengeful or to retaliate. Often it is necessary to remember that vengeance belongs to God. Paul says, "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." We are called to peace. The Church is on a mission of peace; not the kind of peace the world gives. No, my friend, the terms of peace in this world too often seeks a truce with evil, rather than overcoming evil with goodness.
Goodness is the sister of Peace. Christ sends us into the world to be his witnesses. He chose us to be messengers of the mission of his Kingdom of Peace. Paul says, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." If we do these things, the Kingdom of righteousness, joy, and peace will grow and of that Kingdom there will be no end.
Let us go forth into all our little worlds with the Easter Farewell of Purpose, Promise and Peace fresh in our hearts, until he comes again! Amen
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com