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Liturgy and Life

By Brenda Merk Hildebrand

05/02/2018

 

The Ascension of the Lord
May 13, 2018

 

Acts 1:1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1:17-23 or 4:1-13
Mark 16:15-20

Today’s readings are a call to action. The words offer clear instructions: go into all the world and be Christ’s witness, proclaiming the good news. Some will be tempted to rush out and plunge into the assignment. Others might be tempted to hide away from this imperative. After all, Jesus has disappeared into the clouds, and business as usual can resume. The wise will begin by pondering the words they have heard.

These words are ever ancient and ever new. Each Easter season, as we listen to the same words about the same events, something new catches our attention. While we might imagine how it felt to witness our Lord’s ascension, we also want to be attentive to the message that is offered amidst this spectacular event. Sometimes, one word can change everything.

In the first line of the first reading, we hear the word Theophilus. It means, at once, lover and beloved of God. Worthy of pondering, this greeting considers our relationship with God. It is easy, in the midst of the busyness of life, to forget that we are, first and foremost, in a deep, ongoing, loving relationship with our God. Wise was the writer who first noted that what matters most is not who we are, but whose we are.

Eager and energetic, before they really knew who they were, the disciples wanted action. They wanted to know when the kingdom would be restored; times and dates confirmed. It is tempting to want that assurance, and tempting to want to make things happen. Only the wise can wait.

We need to co-operate with the divine wisdom which guides the timing of our words and actions. Luke recounts the wisdom and hope Jesus offered, acknowledging that power would accompany the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mark’s Gospel makes clear that the disciples went out proclaiming the good news “while the Lord worked with them.”

Sometimes we chafe at the waiting. We know how we want things to turn out. We have legitimate longings, real hopes for the manifestation of good in our lives and in the lives of those we love. We know who needs a new job, who longs to carry a baby to term, who should join the church, and whose pain-filled struggles have been going on long enough. We long for personal, family, community and world peace, sometimes feeling captive by things that are beyond our power. It is easy to stand there, looking up to heaven, wishing we could have things our way.

Paul offers a wisdom through which we can remain hopeful. He reminds us that when Jesus ascended, “he made captivity itself a captive.” We are not imprisoned by the things we cannot control. We simply go about living a life worthy of our calling. Key words remind us how: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love. The reminder to live with one another in peace might be timely; we may have long forgotten the warmth of Christmas.

We are sent out to share the good news that came to birth in that season, and which came to fullness in the course of Jesus’ life. He taught in words and action, right up until the last moment of his life, and again until the last moment of the new life he lived after his resurrection. Every moment worthy of pondering. Gratefully, I recall the wisdom of the one who invited me, in every falling down, to look for something in Jesus’ life that could guide me in mine. It is ongoing: the falling down, the dying, and the rising to new life.

Each time, however, life continues in a new way. We may become empowered to speak in tongues; perhaps not in the traditional gift of tongues, but in a manner no less effective. Harsh, sarcastic and cynical words transform into words that are encouraging and hope-filled. In the midst of a toxic situation, the unkind and rude words or actions of others are no longer poisonous. In a world that is still waiting to hear the good news, we come ever closer to living a true Christian life.

Paul reminds us that we can come “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” He graciously and wisely prays that the spirit will be revealed to us, and the eyes of our hearts enlightened. He hopes we will hold fast to the riches of the glorious inheritance that has been given to us.

“Not on my shift.” I first heard these words while watching a movie in which the hero faced intense opposition. Some thought the price of virtue and noble character too high, and suggested taking the easy way out. The hero stood tall in the face of adversity, from both the “enemy” and from colleagues who saw no value in “taking the high road.” It required great wisdom and strength to face the challenge with courage and integrity.

“In the end, the good guys win.” During one Bible study session, our conversation considered all that seemed wrong and hopeless in our troubled world. One woman, eyes sparkling in delight, held up her Bible and pointed to it: “I peeked ahead. In the end, the good guys win!” Her words offered a reminder of the truth we had forgotten. We laughed light-heartedly as our sense of hope was restored.

There are many ways to share the Gospel, the good news of our lives. It is the hope to which we have been called, and the promise of the riches of the inheritance which awaits. May we each hear these words for ourselves: “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Merk Hildebrand has a passion for education, spiritual and palliative care. She is a Benedictine Oblate of the House of Bread Monastery in Nanaimo, BC Contact Brenda through her website: www.thegentlejourney.ca or via email: thegentlejourney@gmail.com