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Feast of the Ascension of the Lord

(note: This feast is often observed on the Seventh Sunday of Easter instead of the Thursday before)

    “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” (Acts of the Apostles, 1:10)

Jesus has left this world.

His physical presence has “ascended.” He has returned to the Father who sent him to help people see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears who God truly is.

The Feast of the Ascension reminds us of this one major reality:
Jesus has completed his earthly work.

Jesus has shown clearly through his parables, his casting out of demons, his “healing of the people,” and his call of the outcast into full fellowship that a new way of living is now possible – a way he called the “reign of God” or the “kingdom of God.”

In doing so, Jesus made it crystal clear that this “reign” or “kingdom” is not in any way to be confused with a political or militaristic rule. Even more so it does not in any way involve tyrannical domination over others.

Instead, the “reign of God” that Jesus relentlessly preached and lived out involved a very singular dimension:
The rule of God over human hearts. Your heart. My heart.

In today’s first reading from sacred scripture, the angels ask the apostles a very direct question:
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

What the angels are trying to say is:
Jesus is not asking us to stand in awe or to waste time grieving the loss of his physical presence. Instead, Jesus is calling on each of us to do something quite different:
Go on a mission – a mission of living out what Jesus lived; a mission of going out to “all the nations” bringing with you the “good news” of a whole new way of being human.   

As one scripture scholar puts it:
“In these times of deep religious crisis, it is not enough to believe in just any God; we need to know what kind of God is revealed in Jesus … not a ‘god’ we have created out of our own fears, ambitions, and illusions, but the very different God that Jesus experienced and communicated.”

Today we live in a world immersed in the horrors of warfare and hunger and poverty and drugs and an increasing addiction to guns, as well as a multitude of other destructive forces – like a major disease such as COVID.

Consequently, we desperately need the intervention of a Power that will enable us to fulfill the goals of love and mercy and graciousness that Jesus lived and died for.

In other words, if there is a God worth believing in, he/she must be like Jesus – committed to being with the “least of these,” teaching the centrality of love and kindness and mercy, always showing heartfelt compassion.

What Jesus made clear is this:
The true test of whether the God we believe in is worth our love and fidelity is:
How does this God – the God of Jesus – care for his people?

The way the God of Jesus demonstrated his kind of care for people was unique:
Searching out for the one sheep that was lost; forgiving “70 times 7;” throwing a party for the son who was lost but now was found; getting down on his knees and washing the feet of his disciples; healing the sick; forgiving the sinners; curing the lepers.

And, of course, enduring the most excruciating of deaths by gifting his entire self out of love for all.

That’s how the God of Jesus demonstrated how much he cares.

But this God also must be one who can draw the best out of each one of us. He must be a God who can enrich us by stretching us and calling us to a deeper and more fulfilling experience of what true happiness is really all about.
Jesus does just that when he says:
Be merciful as God is merciful.”

Love as God loves.

Forgive as God forgives.

And the reward will be a way of life that will result in a peace and harmony that will satisfy our deepest longings as human beings.

Ultimately, this is how, Jesus tells us, a “reign of God” will happen in our lives:
When we start seeing through the eyes of those who suffer, and when we decide to “not just stand there looking at the sky,” but commit ourselves to working towards bringing about a world in line with the kind of God Jesus taught, modeled and died for.   

“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.

Art by Jim Matarelli
Sister Rachel’s Quote of the Week

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