Saturday 11 May 2013

THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD - As a disciple of Jesus, will you continue his mission on earth?

To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 1:1-11; Eph 1:17-23; Lk 24:46-53

The ascension of the Lord might be seen, on the one hand, as a feast that celebrates the completion of the Lord’s work on earth.  On the other hand, it might be seen as a feast that celebrates the beginning of the work of the Church. The Lord has done what he was meant to do; he had the courage of his convictions and even went to his death for them. He is now raised and has gone to his rightful place. What matters now is that the Church continues the work that he inaugurated. What matters now is that the Church has the courage of its convictions. What matters now is that the Church be prepared to face all kinds of difficulty and hardship, turmoil and tribulation, and still dare to believe that God will accompany the Church every step of the way just as God accompanied Jesus, even to the Cross.

The work that Jesus inaugurated is summarised in the first verses of today’s Gospel. These verses contain, in a capsule form, the whole purpose of the Incarnation. Jesus came to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.  He was willing to go to his death because of such a proclamation, but was raised by the Father and now lives with the Father. However, there is more.  The repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached by his disciples to all nations. No one is excluded or to be excluded. The message is too good not to be shared. It is too good to be kept exclusively for a select group of people. It is too good not to be communicated to the whole world.

What does repentance and forgiveness of sins entail? How does one repent? How are sins forgiven? Repentance does not mean being sorry.  Rather, it means the willingness to put on a new mind.  It means the willingness to see things, persons, and events in a new way. It means letting go of the past, without regret, and putting on the new with courage, conviction, and confidence. Repentance is not the condition for forgiveness of sins but its consequence. Precisely because our sins are forgiven, we repent. Repentance follows the forgiveness of sins.  The desire to repent is proof that one has accepted the forgiveness that God grants. This is exactly what the disciples do after they receive the commission from Jesus. They “returned” to Jerusalem with great joy even as Jesus was carried into heaven. They had received his blessing and had accepted it; they had received his forgiveness and had shown this in their response.
Their response is shown in the beginning of the first reading of today which recapitulates the last verses of the Gospel. The disciples received the power of forgiveness and were to become witnesses of this power to all nations. Jesus, who had been a witness of this power in his life time, was now taken up to heaven and the responsibility of being witnesses now rested on the shoulders of the disciples. According to these verses, discipleship is defined in terms of an active witness to the risen and ascended Jesus. Jesus’ disciples must show, as he did, that God was indeed forgiveness and love. They must show that the plan and will of God was to reconcile the world to himself in Jesus.

This is the hope to which the Ephesians were called in the second reading and to which each one is called, even today. This hope was made manifest and tangible in what God did in Jesus and in what God will continue to do in those who believe. The end of the reading reinforces the command that Jesus gave to the disciples in the Gospel text of today. Since the Church is the body of Christ, it has to live like his body and not separate from him. In other words, it means that the Church is an extension of Jesus and all that he was, and must be, to the world.
Today, more than two thousand years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the mandate, the commission, remains the same. We, as Church, are called to make present Jesus through the words we speak and the actions we perform. We are called to preach that same forgiveness and repentance that Jesus brought from God. We can do this, as the disciples did, by “returning to Jerusalem”. This means a conviction that we have been forgiven, accepted, and loved by God, in Jesus.  We can show this conviction, in a tangible way, by accepting, forgiving, and loving in return. The world will never know or receive this forgiveness if we do not proclaim it and make it known. The body of Jesus is visible today in all who claim to be his disciples. This is to be shown to the world as “proof”, not only of the fact that Jesus is alive, but that in his name, forgiveness is even now being preached. It is significant that the content of the preaching, even after the resurrection of Jesus, is to be forgiveness.  That is why Jesus came into the world; to save people from their sins. This forgiveness can be preached and made real only if we bear witness to it through our lives.

Since God, in Jesus, saves, sends and blesses, the Church must, in continuation of God’s action, do the same.

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