"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

ASCENSION OF THE LORD June 2, 2019

Acts 1: 1-11;Psalm 47;Ephesians 1: 17-23;Luke 24:46-53

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

PRE-NOTE:

Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions": the members of the Dominican Laity and the recent men retreatants both at St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, Texas

Since most dioceses have scheduled the celebration of the Ascension on this Sunday (instead of celebrating the 7th Sunday of Easter), I thought it would be helpful to reflect on this feast.


Imagine what it felt like to be one of Jesus’ first disciples. What a roller coaster ride they had had! There were the heady first days of traveling with him; listening to his powerful preaching; being wonder-struck as he performed miracles and feeling pride when people learned they were his intimates. Except for the arguments with Pharisees and Sadducees, things were going pretty nicely for this band of followers. Formerly, they were nobodies; now they were somebodys – they were disciples of Jesus. It was all very fine, and things seemed to be getting bigger as they entered Jerusalem with Jesus with the sound of the crowds in their ears and the feel of palm branches under their feet on the road into the city.

Then the roller coaster plunged straight down, as far down as it could go. Jesus was arrested, hastily tried and dispatched to his executioners and the burial party. The formerly enthusiastic followers fled to lay low and figure out their escape. But just days later, things took another dramatic swing – he was alive with, as Acts tells us today, "many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the reign of God." But here it is, the Ascension and their emotions are in for another rapid shift in direction, Jesus has left them again. I wonder what they were thinking as they "looked intently at the sky as he was going"? "Why can’t he stay? Just when we need him the most, he leaves us. Who’ll be with us to show us how to be his witnesses? Who’ll intervene when we argue among ourselves? Or, when scandal rocks our community and we feel like we are going to collapse? Who’ll teach us how to answer his enemies’ objections? What should we do next? This evening? Tomorrow morning? Should we go home and lead good lives, or go on the road to be preachers? What does ‘preach the gospel’ mean anyway?"

These may have been some of their ponderings as they stared up to the heavens. It took the "two men dressed in white garments (were these the same two at the empty tomb?), to shake them out of whatever nostalgia, or anxiety they were feeling. The motion-sick disciples drag themselves from the mountain and return to the midst of the world, Jerusalem. They don’t have a clue what to do next, but Acts tells us that Jesus’ Spirit will find them and equip them for the tasks that lie ahead. They will discover that they won’t be on their own in their uncertain future, that Jesus’ life with God will be the source of more-than-enough gifts with which to spread the news of the reign of God.

The Ascension sounds like a conclusion, and in some ways it is. It concludes the earthly ministry of Jesus and ends one way the disciples have known him. But the Ascension is also a bridge to another, new and surprising way the disciples will know Jesus. This new experience of his life with them will be made known by the coming and activity of the Holy Spirit. Their Jewish belief taught that heaven is where God dwells. No human could seek to attain such a place, for the Almighty and transcendent One dwelt there. (Elijah and Enoch were taken up to heaven, but they were the exception and not the rule.) Now that Jesus had been "lifted up," his followers can believe that he had not only risen from the dead, but is in a new life with God. His being there gives us hope that one day we will also be there. Jesus in now in God’s company, his appearances to his disciples have ceased. But since he is with God, like God, he is present to all, no longer limited by time and place. Absent, yet fully present. Since Jesus is alive with God, we are assured that he will come again. Meanwhile, because of his present status as Lord of all, he works with his servants to bring about God’s plan. We, on our part, work diligently here on earth, in collaboration with him and as we do, we keep an eye on Jesus, for where he is, we will someday be. A lot revolves around the Ascension. Because of it, we believe Jesus will come again; that he rules over all creation; sends us the Holy Spirit; is our priest and reveals God to us. This feast gives us great hope.

After the Ascension, what must the disciples do to get things going? There was a lot to do; a gospel to be preached, works of compassion and healing to be performed. Did some of the disciples want to get on with their assigned task? You could picture them rolling up the sleeves of their tunics, ready to get to work. Did they feel that since they had learned a lot from Jesus while they were with him and, since he had showed himself to them after his resurrection, they had more than enough experience and training to go out and change the world? Some may have felt timid and not quite ready, but there are always the enthusiastic and energized who want to do something, anything, right away. This group may have felt frustrated to hear that they must "wait for the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak." When there is a lot to do, most people don’t want to first stop and do nothing.

The early church is about to undergo a big change. The Ascension is an in-between time, when one period is ending and a new is about to begin. But not quite yet. Rather than rush off fired by their own enthusiasms and plans, the disciples are told to wait. So, they will do that, letting themselves be ready and waiting for God to have an influence over them. I think of all the church gatherings and meetings when we say a perfunctory prayer and then hurry on to the work at hand. Whether it be dealing with important home or church issues, I am so task-oriented, I forget the partnership we have in the community with the Holy Spirit, "the promise of the Father." The Spirit’s coming will begin a new age, when the words and actions of the disciples are the fruits of the Spirits’s life with us. With the Spirit’s guidance our projects might take an unusual shape, a new routine, an unexpected turn. Maybe we will be less driven, less success oriented, more accepting ting of the voices of others and more willing to be flexible when change is needed. How will these disciples and us be more open to the coming Spirit?

First, the instructions are to wait and receive what God wants to give us. As a church, and as individuals, we are going to have to figure out what form our "waiting" takes, our attempts to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We need to devise "strategies for waiting" that reflect our dependence on God. More deliberate prayer for guidance by communities of faith might reflect the Ascension-hope of the community that believes Jesus’ promise to give us his Spirit to guide us.

It’s possible to be quite actively involved in our work for God and still keep within our busy schedule and active a sense of waiting--- even as we go about our projects. Some people start the day with a few quiet moments expressing in wordless prayer openness and dependence on God for life and nourishment. Others, busy in their world of family, work and service, carry in their heats through the day brief mantras, short repetitious prayers, that state and reiterate openness and dependence on God for initiative and direction for the form their response to God should take. "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." "Here I am O God, ready to do your will."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/060219-ascension.cfm