Today’s gospel (Mk. 16:15-20) has the risen Lord sending his disciples into the whole world in order to proclaim the gospel to every creature. This very same mission continues today. Christianity cannot stay within, locked behind closed doors! But, before we run out to the world, we need to know for whom we are running and whose message it is exactly that we are proclaiming. I once heard a seasoned Catholic blogger give some sound advice to some young seminarians eager to evangelize the internet for Christ. She cautioned that before you start saying things about faith and Christ make sure you actually have something to say. The only way to speak authentically about Christ is to encounter Christ. Another way of getting at this is by asking the question actually whose disciples are we?
We are not disciples for ourselves even if we might claim the name Christian. Taking only the teachings of our Lord that we like and find agreeable and then trying to manage and live our lives on our own – agreeing with Jesus but not really feeling a need for him, too closely, in our lives.
We are disciples because God has first loved us – he has called us and saved us in love. He sends us into the world in order to proclaim the good news in love and peace. In many ways the gospel is a weak strength – the gospel needs us to proclaim it, if not love begins to disappear and peace begins to lose to violence and hatred. But for any of this to happen we must live continually in relationship with Christ, remembering that we are his disciples and not disciples for ourselves.
Despite the seemingly, other-worldly nature of today’s feast (What does it mean that Jesus ascends to the Father?), the Feast of the Ascension is a very concrete reality. It is so because of the simple fact that the hope we celebrate today is not founded in some abstract or utopian principle or ideal of a better tomorrow but in the very resurrected body of Christ. Christ is indeed risen which means he is risen body and soul, flesh and blood. Anything less would not be fully and authentically human. Christ ascends to the Father not just in spirit or thought but in the very concrete reality of his full humanity. Throughout this Easter season we have heard Christ, time and time again, assuring his disciples that he is indeed present in “flesh and bone”. This means fully present not just up to the moment of the ascension but in the ascension itself and now at the Father’s right hand. From the day of the ascension heaven “began to populate itself with the earth, or, in the language of Revelation, a new heaven and earth began.”
In the ascension we truly realize that we are not orphans. We are not left to the cold and cruel winds of chance, fate and odds or a history without direction. Direction has been set. The resurrected Christ now sits at the Father’s right hand! This, and nothing less, is our goal. It is what we are meant for and what we are called to by God’s grace.
It is truly concrete and it is achieved and experienced concretely.
In the gospel Jesus tells us that he is “the way” and the way, it turns out, is walked concretely. The ascension is experienced again not in some abstract manner but in how we concretely treat and love the smallest and poorest brothers and sisters in our midst. When we love concretely we experience the ascension and we are brought toward the fullness of the future that God has prepared for us in Christ.
Let me share an example. When I was chaplain at the Catholic Center at ETSU our Sant’Egidio group decided to take sandwich bags once a week to the John Sevier Center. (The John Sevier Center is a low-income housing unit in downtown Johnson City.) We did not go there as experts in anything. We knew we could not solve the residents’ problems and struggles. We just went and we were faithful in going and in this simple act of being present a human space was created both for the residents and for us. We became friends. By this we were brought a little bit further toward the fullness that awaits us all. In this human space miracles happen and signs are given – demons of isolation, fear, hatred and resignation are cast out and life is gained. I have seen it for myself time and time again. Now, our Sant’Egidio group here at St. Dominic’s has begun visiting Holston Manor nursing home and it is beginning to happen again – a human space is being created.
Christ bestows his love upon us. We are disciples for him and we are meant to communicate his love. Love that is not communicated soon withers and dies.
Love is lived not abstractly but concretely and it is in the concrete act that we are brought toward the fullness that awaits us all.