The Ascension: Continue Preaching the Gospel
The Gospel for this year’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Ascension is taken from the canonical ending of the Gospel of Mark, Mark 16:9-20. Most scripture scholars agree that the earliest editions of the Gospel of Mark ended with Mark 16:8. Mark has a simple, precise conclusion to his Gospel: Immediately after Jesus’ death, his body was placed in Joseph of Aramethea’s tomb. On Easter morning three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body. But Jesus is not there. A young man, an angel, sitting inside the tomb tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead as he said he would be. He instructs them to go tell Peter and the disciples that Jesus will meet them in Galilee. The women leave bewildered.
A new writer living in the first days of the Church, added today’s Gospel onto the Easter account. Now, don’t be concerned. This is still declared to be under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit no matter who penned the details. Today’s Gospel presents how the disciples understood their mission and how we must the understand our mission, the mission of the Church.
Jesus told the disciples to go and proclaim the Good News to the entire world. Those who believe it and accept baptism will be saved. Those who reject the Gospel will be condemned. Signs will accompany those who accept the faith. Demons will be expelled. People will speak in new languages, they will be able to handle serpents, drink deadly poisons without harm, and the sick upon whom they lay their hands will recover. Then Jesus was taken up into heaven, the Ascension. The Gospel of Mark says that the disciples went and preached everywhere. The Lord continued to work through them and confirm their message with miraculous signs.
The Lord ascends to the Father, but at the same time He is with his disciples, working through them and confirming His presence with miracles.
The early Church experienced these miracles in the disciples and apostles. At Pentecost the disciples spoke and people from various nations heard them in their native languages. Even before the crucifixion, Jesus had given his disciples the power to expel demons and heal the sick. In the Acts of the Apostles, that wonderful history of the first days of the Church, we read in chapter 9 how Ananais cured Paul of blindness by laying his hands on him. Acts 28 mentioned that when Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta, he cured many people by laying hands on them. On that island he picked up a piece of wood and a poisonous snake bit him. The people expected him to die immediately, instead he just shook the snake off into a fire. Today’s Gospel probably refers to some of these events.
This small band of disciples proclaimed Jesus Christ to the world. And Christ worked through them. And He still does.
We proclaim the life of Jesus Christ, and He still works through us. Proclaiming the gospel means far more than teaching articles of faith. Proclaiming the Gospel means making the presence of Christ a reality to the world. This is the commission that we Christians have received from the Lord. We have received the Lord. He dwells within our bodies. We are called to nurture his presence and make his presence real for others. Jesus works through us attracting others to himself.
People do not become Christians through of the words of Christianity. People become Christians through the presence of Jesus Christ.
We cannot allow anything to destroy the presence of Christ within us. We cannot give ourselves over to the forces of evil that wage war on the Lord. The battles of the Book of Revelation began with the Resurrection and continue daily. The early Church believed that every Mass, every prayer, every work of charity, was a skirmish in the fight against evil. Like every difficult enemy, the forces of evil continually finds new ways to wage war. The eighteenth century saw this in the Enlightenment when rationalism challenged faith. The nineteenth century saw the enemy embrace the industrial revolution as a way to turn people against each other, against God, and toward the worship of materialism. The first half of the twentieth century saw the battle change to the political front with the ideals of socialism, both fascist and communist, twisted to eliminate the presence of the Lord. The second half of the century saw evil attack personal holiness through the media, the internet and other advancements in technology. The battle for or against the Gospel continues. The Lord fights with us. His power, His presence is greater than all evil, even the evil we come up with ourselves. No serpent can destroy His life within us. The devil, like the serpent that bit Paul, is thrown into the fire by the power of the Lord.
The Lord fights for us, and the Lord fights with us. Whether the demons are serpents or the crises of every day life.
Jesus is present and, if we let Him, is in control of our lives. Yes, He ascended into heaven. But He did not leave us. We have been commissioned to go out and preach with our lives that Jesus lives.