A few years ago a Deacon friend of mine worked for L’Arche, the Christian movement which runs homes for people with mental and physical disabilities. One beautiful summer day the community took a group of children from their home to the beach at Kelso Park. Everyone was happy playing in the water and drawing pictures in the sand. An assistant asked one of the children to draw a picture of a house and the child drew a big picture of a house. He asked another child to draw a picture of a horse, and the child drew a great picture of a horse in the sand. Finally, he asked a third child, “Draw me a picture of joy.” The child looked up at him — looked all the way down the end of the beach — looked back at him — looked all the way down the other end of the beach — looked back up at him and said, “There’s not enough room for joy!”
That’s how we should feel as we celebrate the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus. No matter what we’re going through, no matter what our personal problems, family issues, work problems, world crises, pandemic situation, or personal suffering: We rejoice because our Lord is risen and we know we too are headed toward our resurrection. Deep down, we don’t have enough room for our joy.
Today we hear in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples didn’t have enough room for their joy when Jesus appeared to them. They were bursting with joy when Jesus talked again about God’s reign and told them to carry on with his work. Then, all of a sudden, he was lifted up into the clouds and disappeared into heaven before their very eyes, leaving them speechless.
That’s kind of where we are today. Like the disciples, we are left speechless. Jesus seems to have wanted to leave them — and us — not only so that He could go to God, but so that he could send his Holy Spirit upon them — and us — so they — and us — could live in his spirit and do the things he did and be like him. At that moment two men in white robes appeared to them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” Maybe they might have been a bit more direct and asked: “Why have your heads in the clouds? Get back here and get to work! Get back to the Temple, the scene of the crime and do the things Jesus told you to do.”
So I thought we might reflect on three things about the Ascension:
What Jesus told the disciples and us to do, the need for this work, and how we are going to do it.
FIRST, according to the Acts of the Apostles and this excerpt from the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus gave them specific instructions — I count nine of them. They are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, proclaim the Gospel, believe in him, drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink deadly liquids, lay hands on the sick and heal one another.
These are the things we are supposed to do too. We are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Next week is Pentecost Sunday, so I invite you to spend this week praying every day for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us and the world in new ways. Also, we are to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, and to proclaim the Gospel to one another and the whole world. We can reflect on how well we are doing that. How well do we proclaim the Gospel to one another and the whole world?
We’re supposed to believe in Jesus, to drive out the demons of violence and evil and death; to lay hands on the sick and heal them, and to pick up serpents. (In Kentucky, the rural Baptist churches pass snakes around during their services to fulfill this commandment of Jesus!) Luckily today’s service is on line so there will be no snakes handed out. I think that challenge means we are supposed to confront our fears and evil. How well are we doing these things?
SECOND, there has never been as great a need for people to do these things as now.
The world is full of disasters due to the pandemic. Today we pray especially for the suffering in India where there are currently over 22m Covid cases and at least 400K deaths, increasing by nearly 4k a day. There are wars, poverty, starvation, greed, violence and nuclear weapons, which threaten us all. In addition to the world pandemic our world is full of sick people, like the 40 million people in Africa who are dying from AIDS and HIV, who have no affordable medicine. I learned recently that 7,000 children in South Africa die every day from AIDS. This is unconscionable.
The world is full of witnesses, witnesses to power, money, selfishness, and military might. Few people witness to love, compassion, mercy and peace, as Jesus asked.
THIRD, there is much work to do:
I think Jesus needs every one of us to be more involved in his work, doing his mission. How are we doing? St. Ignatius Loyola put it this way. We need to ask ourselves: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What more can I do for Christ?” Pope Francis challenges us today to be, in his words, “neighbours who care for each other.”
The Lord Jesus is in Heaven, in the Glory of God! Today, he expects only one thing of us: that we believe in Him. That is enough. Let us ask the Lord to pour out into our hearts an ardent faith, a living faith, a faith full of love, a faith able to move mountains! If we believe, everything is possible! In this month of devotion to Mary, let us ask Mary — the model of faith in the first coming of the Son of God — to intercede for us and for the whole world, in order that the faith in Jesus the Savior of the world might spread.
Like all disciples of the Christ we need to ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon us, that we might live in the Spirit of Jesus more and more and do the work he has for us.
-Dcn. Terry Murphy