In the Ascension story Jesus tell his disciples, and us: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” Really – the “whole world” and to “every creature?” And, Jesus, that part about picking up serpents with my bare-hands – it will take very special graces for me to comply. The Gospel is reminding us we have to remain in a state of readiness for a challenging, exciting trip. We need to set aside fear and trembling and any hesitation. We’re on a mission! We are those commissioned to go forth and proclaim the Gospel of life and love, of hope and peace. And, although Jesus says: “GO” we really don’t have to travel anywhere. We preach by the witness of our lives and as St. Francis of Assisi said: “When necessary use words.”
We sing about our commissioning in the hymn-text (by Jeffrey Rowthorn) “Lord, you gave the great commission … with the spirit’s gifts empowering us, for the work of ministry.” We are entrusted and (here’s the key word) enabled to continue Jesus’ own work – to share the news of God’s love in word and deed. Not only that, we are instructed to invite our co-workers, our oblates and guests and others to help bring God’s kingdom to fruition. We have a shared mission, a common goal.
The challenge of sharing the Good News, of spreading peace throughout the entire world must begin with our humble acknowledgement that it is the Spirit of God that will lead the way. Relay racers will tell you that the critical moment in the race is the passing of the baton from one runner to another. More relays are won or lost at that moment than at any other time in the race.
The feast of the Ascension might be compared to the passing of the baton. On this day over 2,000 years ago, Jesus passed the baton of responsibility for the Kingdom of God to his followers. Jesus commissioned them, and us, to complete the work he had begun. Practically speaking what does this mean? In any role in community, in any ministry and in employment settings we must discern when it is time to “pass the baton” – when is it time to let someone else (a new-comer, an upstart, a confrere) take on the ministry that’s been mine “forever.” How can the other use their God-given talents if I hold tight-fisted to a position God is calling that person to minister in? What opportunity am I rejecting because I am too intent on clutching a task that God is beckoning me to let go of? Christ’s Ascension, his return to his Father was his “Mission Accomplished” – the culmination of God’s divine plan for Christ. Let us pray for the insight and courage to know when our mission – mini or final – is accomplished.
On this day of hope, encouragement and commissioning, let us renew our commitment to be true disciples everywhere we go, beginning with our pew partner, our community members, our families and our parish, “living in a manner worthy of the calling we have received.”
There is an ancient beautiful story (maybe you’ve heard before) about the ascension of Jesus into heaven. When the grand welcome ceremony was over, the angel Gabriel quietly approached Jesus and shared some doubts. “I know that only very few in Palestine are aware of the great work of human salvation you have accomplished through your suffering, death and resurrection. But the whole world should know and appreciate it and become your disciples, acknowledging you as their Lord and Savior. What is your plan of action?” Jesus answered, “I have told all my apostles to tell other people about me and preach my message through their lives. That’s all.” “Suppose they don’t do that,” Gabriel responded. “What’s your Plan B?” Jesus replied, “I have no other plan; I am counting on them.”
Jesus is counting on each one of us to make him known, loved and accepted by others around us. He has no other plan than to depend on us! How well do we measure up to the task? If we believe that in Baptism we became part of the Body of Christ, and if Christ has no hands but ours in this world, how can we figuratively sit on our hands or keep them in our pockets?
Solemnity of the Ascension – June 2, 2019 Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress