May 16 – The Ascension of the Lord
Many of you my age remember the song “Up, Up and Away in My Beautiful Balloon” sung by the Fifth Dimension. As we celebrate the Ascension today, perhaps up, up but NOT away would be our song. While Jesus is out of sight, he is not out of mind or presence. His presence can be experienced in many ways, or as the Gospel accounts today, through signs. Jesus reminds us that he is with us until the end of the world. How? First, in his church. But not only in holy places or shrines, but in the people who are the church. When I was pastor of St. Michael in Wheaton (2001 – 2012), the church was destroyed by an arson fire in 2002. That morning one of the news reporters on the scene asked me, “Father, how do you feel about losing your church?” I responded, “we didn’t lose the church, we only lost the building where the church gathers.”
On this feast of the Ascension, we celebrate the truth that Jesus has ascended and entered into glory and is seated at God’s right hand. But just because Jesus has sat down, does not mean that his work is finished. The Kingdom of God is not yet fully established. There is still violence and injustice in our world. Jesus will need to return at the end of time to finally establish God’s Kingdom in its fullness. Until the time when Jesus returns, he expects us to be active.
Jesus expects us to work for justice, to proclaim the good news of God’s love. This is what we are called to do. The gospel makes it clear, Jesus says to the disciples, “Go out to all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole of creation.” The gospel also makes it clear that our mission cannot be successful unless it is accompanied by signs. Signs make other people take notice. They set us apart and validate the power and the truth of the message. Words are not enough! Signs are necessary if the gospel is to be fully confirmed and believed.
While the signs mentioned in today’s gospel may seem rather extreme, may I suggest a few “kingdom” signs: What if some objected to having a co-worker or a fellow student belittled or refused to laugh at a racist joke? What if someone stood up to defend another who was being ignored? That could be a sign of the Kingdom. What if someone decided to be patient with another person who annoyed them? What if instead of discounting that person or saying offensive things to them, a person would choose to listen and perhaps understand where that person was coming from? That could be a sign of the Kingdom. What if parents occasionally set aside their work, set aside their household tasks and their multiple schedules and created a space where the family could simply gather and listen to one another’s lives? That could be a kingdom sign. Whatever causes people to notice, sets us apart, goes against the grain – if it is oriented toward justice and love – can be a sign of the Kingdom of God!
Have a blessed Easter Season!