Immersed in Christ: May 24, 2020
The Feast of the Ascension, The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Except in the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha the feast of the Ascension is transferred from the sixth Thursday of Easter to the seventh Sunday of Easter. Where it is still celebrated on Thursday, the reflection for the seventh Sunday of Easter is also provided here.
What does it mean to me that Jesus ascended into heaven? Does it have any influence on my life? On the decisions I make today?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us to stop “looking up at the skies” because, just as Jesus left, in the same way he is going to return. The Opening Prayer has us ask that we might “follow him into the new creation,” and calls his ascension our joy, “our glory and our hope.” The Responsorial (Psalm 47) just calls for celebration: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord”.
This is a lot to deal with! Taken together, these texts call us to “await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” (from the Communion Rite of the Mass). But this is an active waiting: we don’t just stand around waiting for it to happen; we are sent to make it happen.
The Reign of God
Acts 1: 1-11 tells us that after his resurrection, Jesus spent forty days appearing to his apostles and “speaking about the reign of God.” We don’t know what he said, but the apostles must not have understood, because just before Jesus ascended they still thought he was going to set up a government in Israel supported by divine power! “Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus didn’t answer; he just kept telling them to “wait” — wait for the “fulfillment of my Father’s promise,” wait to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” wait to “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you.” Then “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The kingdom is going to be established by divine power, but working through human weakness. It will be the power of the Holy Spirit enlightening and motivating them; a Spirit not of coercion and force, but of conversion through truth and love.
This should have told them already that the establishment of God’s reign over every human heart was going to take a long time! When we pray, “Thy kingdom come!” we are praying “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” God’s reign will not be complete until everyone really wants this.
At God’s Right Hand
Ephesians 1: 17-23 tells us that in God’s time-frame Jesus is already reigning. God has “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion… not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This is what the Ascension says: in Jesus “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” The man the apostles ate and drank and walked the dusty roads with, the man they saw crucified in weakness, is now seated at God’s right hand in glory, and all power is his now — and forever. St. Paul writes this so that the “eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” and “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy.” Our joy is the joy of our hope.
We need hope, unshakeable hope, because in Matthew 28: 16-20 Jesus tells the apostles and us: “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
That is hardly a modest undertaking! But Jesus empowers us with the words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the world.” Jesus ascended, not to leave us, but to remain with us, in every member of his body on earth who is animated by his Spirit. With us, in us and through us, Jesus continues to “go about all the cities and villages, teaching … and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness” (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). This is his ministry. He will continue it in his body, the Church, until the reign of God is established in every heart that accepts him. Then he will “come again,” his triumph revealed in the emergent glory of his body, his glory shining in diversified beauty through each and every member of the human race who has become a transparent vessel of God’s own life and love.
Jesus ascends to make this happen. He ascends to send down the Holy Spirit. The Church professes her faith and hope in prayer: “Send forth your Spirit, and our hearts will be regenerated.” The Church believes this can happen. And then, “You will renew the face of the earth!” That is what we celebrate: “God mounts his throne to shouts of joy; a blare of trumpets for the Lord.”
Does the Ascension of Jesus inspire you now to let him live and continue his work in you? Does his promise of the Holy Spirit encourage you? Does it motivate you to any decisions?
Resolve to let Christ grow “to full stature” in you (Ephesians 4:13), and dedicate yourself to a lifestyle that bears witness, so that you can help bring Christ to “full stature” throughout the human race.
Same Sunday, May 24, 2020
(For the provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, and Omaha, where Ascension Thursday is still celebrated on the Thursday before the Seventh Sunday of Easter).
The Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year A)
Spirit and Flesh
In the Entrance Antiphon, not only do we say that our heart prompts us to “seek your face,” but we declare positively to God: “I seek it. Lord, do not hide from me.” Am I making both of these statements personally or just repeating them because they are “in the book”? How do I “seek God’s face?” Where? How?
In the Opening Prayer we affirm both that Christ “lives with God in glory,” and “promised to remain with us until the end of time.” Both statements are verified when we see Christ “glorified” visibly on earth. Then the words of the Gloria at Mass: “We praise you for your glory,” take on the ring of personal experience.
When we sing in the Responsorial (Psalm 27): “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” we mean we will see God’s glory here on earth — in the “community of the living” — as well as in heaven.
History and Spirit
Acts 1: 12-14 makes a point of listing again the names of the original Twelve Jesus chose to be the foundation of his Church (minus Judas). This is because they were unique witnesses to Jesus.
There had to be twelve of them to show that the Church was the continuation of the twelve tribes of Israel. John reports:
And in the spirit [the angel]... showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.... It has a great, high wall with twelve gates... and on the gates are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites.... And the wall of the city has twelve foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Revelation 21:9-12).
The Twelve also had to be historical witnesses. The replacement had to be “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us” (Acts 1:21-22). Still today, to be a fully authentic witness to Jesus, one has to be in historical continuity with the community of those who knew him during his earthly life.
Saint Paul would not have qualified as one of the Twelve, because he did not know Jesus before his resurrection. That is why Paul, although he had already been baptized and had been preaching for three years, went up to Jerusalem to “visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days.” Then after fourteen years, “in response to a revelation” he went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas and Titus, his co-workers, for “a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders.” There, he says, “I laid before them the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.” And he was approved. “When James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 1:18, 2:1-9).
The Church Paul helped to establish is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). The apostles are the link with the historical Jesus. but the prophets are proof that the risen Jesus is alive and speaking in the Church today through his Spirit. Both are essential. Jesus told the disciples before his Ascension, “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.... You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:4-8). And that is why today's reading, after listing the apostles' names, shows them gathered in an upstairs room, “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”
Christ in you, the hope of glory
John 17: 1-11 says Jesus is “glorified” in us. This means that his “glory,” his greatness and his triumph as Messiah and Savior of the world is made evident in us. We are the visible proof that he is what he claimed to be.
Jesus said to the Father, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.” We glorify Jesus by doing the work he gave us to do. And that work is made specific for us in our baptismal consecration: we were anointed at Baptism to fulfill the triple mission of Jesus as Prophet, Priest and King. We glorify him because when we do his work, it becomes evident that Jesus is risen, alive, and doing the work himself — with us, in us and through us.
Jesus was specific about the work the Father gave him. It was “to give eternal life” to all whom the Father gave him. Our work on earth is to be the instruments through which Jesus continues to “give eternal life” — that is, to communicate to others “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” which is the gift of sharing in the divine life of God.
“This is eternal life,” Jesus said: “that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” This was his work: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me.” Jesus lived and breathed to bring about the first thing he taught us to pray for: “Father, hallowed be thy name!” This was the first priority of his life, the greatest desire of his heart.
Jesus made the Father known by embodying in himself the truth and goodness of the Father. “Whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (John 12:45). When Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied,” he answered, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). For us to glorify Jesus, people have to see him in us, alive and revealing himself in “works” — the choices that characterize our lifestyle — that are manifestly impossible by human motivation alone, but only by the power of his Spirit acting in us. This is to be prophets.
Jesus glorified the Father by being the visible “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and “reflection of God's glory” (Hebrews 1:3). He continues to glorify the Father in his body, the Church. The life, the truth, the goodness and glory of God are made visible now in those in whom the risen Jesus continues to express himself visibly on earth. Jesus said of his disciples, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.” He is “glorified in them” when we communicate his truth through the expression of our faith, his intentions through the expression of our hope, his love through the attitude we express toward all whom we deal with.
Of himself Jesus said, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” “The Father who dwells in me does his works.” Of his disciples Jesus said, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Jesus will work in and through them. We glorify the Son by making his life visible in us by expressing our faith, hope and love.
St. Ireneus said, “Life in humans is the glory of God; the life of humans is the vision of God”—provided what is seen cannot be explained except by the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” risen and living his divine life in us.
Jesus said, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but... because I live, you also will live…. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (see John 14:10-20). Paul preached “the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27). To let Jesus in us express himself in and through our human expressions of faith, hope and love is our ministry as priests.
The glory of “enduring love”
1Peter 4: 13-16 encourages us to “rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.” The fact is, his glory is already revealed — here and now — in those who “are reviled for the name of Christ,” because “the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God” is made visible in our “enduring love” — provided, of course, it is our hope in that “glory” which strengthens our love to endure. Then we suffer, not as “criminals or mischief makers,” but as “stewards of the kingship of Christ, striving and suffering for the establishment of his Kingdom.
“If any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name” and are letting him reveal his empowering Spirit in you.
Can I draw courage from knowing Jesus is “seated at the right hand of God”?
When you take a prophetic stance, imagine Jesus in power and glory.