(Acts 1:1-11; Mark 16:15-20)
There’s a great story from L’Arche, the Christian movement which runs home for people with mental and physical disabilities, about one beautiful summer day, when the community took a group of Down’s Syndrome children to the beach, and everyone was happy and they were playing in the ocean and drawing pictures in the sand, and one of the assistants said to one of the Down’s Syndrome children, “Draw me a picture of a house,” and the child drew a big picture of a house. She said to another child, “Draw me a picture of a horse,” and the child drew a great picture of a horse in the sand. Finally, she said to a third child, “Draw me a picture of joy.” The child looked up at her, then looked all the way down the end of the beach, then looked back at her, then looked all the way down the other end of the beach, then looked back up at her and said, “There’s not enough room for joy!”
That’s supposed to be the way we feel as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. No matter what we’re going through, no matter what our personal problems, family issues, work problems, world crises, health situation, suffering or facing our deaths, we rejoice because our Lord is risen and we know we are headed toward resurrection. Deep down, we don’t have enough room for our joy.
So we read here in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples rejoiced when Jesus appeared to them, they were full of joy, and Jesus talked again about God’s reign and told them to carry on with his work, and 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, standing speechless, looking up at the sky. Jesus seems to have wanted to leave them not only so that he could go to God, but so that he could send his Holy Spirit upon them and us and we could live in his spirit and do the things he did and be like him. So the angels appear to them and say, “Men of Galilee, why do you have your head in the clouds? Get back there and get to work! Go back to the Temple, the scene of the crime and do the things Jesus told you to do.”
So I thought we could reflect on three things about the Ascension, what Jesus told the disciples and us to do; the need for this work, and how are we 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! I think it 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 demons of violence, from New Mexico to everywhere, with the thirty five wars, the poverty, the starvation, the greed, the violence and nuclear weapons which threaten us all.
The 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 heard recently that 7,000 children in South Africa every day from AIDS. 41 million people here in the United States have no healthcare. 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 going to do? 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?”
Next week is Pentecost, so 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.
I think the angels of ascension are trying to speak to us as well, and saying to us, “People of America, get your head out of the clouds and get to work for the Lord. Get your head out of the clouds and start proclaiming the Gospel. Get your head out of the clouds and start driving out the demons of violence, war and death. Get your head out of the clouds and start healing one another, loving one another, serving one another and, no matter what, keep on rejoicing.