Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"THEY RETURNED TO JERUSALEM WITH GREAT JOY."


Ascension, Year C. Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53.
AIM: To challenge the hearers to be witnesses to the risen Lord. 
The French have a saying: AEvery time we say goodbye, we die a little.@  Farewells are sad because they remind us, even if only subconsciously, of the great farewell that awaits us all one day, when we must take leave of everyone and everything and go home, at God=s call, to Him.
Jesus= parting from his eleven apostles, described by Luke in our first reading and again in the gospel, was not sad, however. It was joyful. The apostles, we have just heard, Areturned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.@
What explains their joy? It was the realization that though their beloved Lord and Master was no longer with them physically, he remained with them though the power of his Holy Spirit.  Both readings mention the Spirit. AYou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,@ Jesus tells them in our first reading.  The gospel confirms this when it reports Jesus= command to Astay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.@ A week from today, on Pentecost, we shall celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus= promise which that command contained.  The nine days between the Ascension, originally celebrated on Thursday, and Pentecost were the origin of the novena, the practice of praying on nine consecutive days for a particular intention.   
  The eleven apostles filled with joy and praising God continually in the temple are a picture of the Church in miniature. That is what the Church is: the company of those who are filled with joy because of their continuing union with the risen Christ, victorious over sin and death, and constantly speaking God=s praises for all he has done, and continues to do, through his Son, in the power of his Holy Spirit.
Yet the Church is more. This is indicated by a word which is emphasized in both of the readings we have been considering: Awitness.@ In our first reading Jesus tells his apostles: AYou will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth.@ His words in the gospel are similar: AThus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.@
The call to be Christ=s witnesses is not reserved for religious professionals. In baptism and confirmation we have all been called and commissioned as witnesses to the risen Lord. How can we obey this call in a world which often seems indifferent to Jesus Christ, and which regards religion of any kind as an optional extra, like jogging or stamp-collecting, for people who happen to like that kind of thing? One thing is certain. We witness to Jesus Christ more effectively by deeds than by words. You probably know the saying: AWhat you are speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.@                      
Society=s seeming disbelief today is a surface phenomenon only. Underneath there is deep spiritual hunger. People today are looking for assurance that life has meaning despite suffering, injustice, terrorism, and the certainty of death. This is our opportunity. We seize the opportunity by living as people who are convinced that life does have meaning; that this world with all its horrors is still God=s world; that the most powerful force in this world is not hatred but love, not death but life.
That is our opportunity B and our challenge. Today=s celebration of the Lord’s Ascension assures us that Christ continues to be with us, in the power of his Holy Spirit. Like those first friends of Jesus, however, we are not simply to stand gazing up into the heavens, but to get on with the business of being witnesses to our risen and glorified Lord in a world that is hungry for him and his love. Like those first friends of Jesus, we too have received Apower from on high.@ Like them, we have every reason to be filled with joy, and constantly to speak the praises of our loving God, who gives us always so much more than we can either desire or deserve.
In a world filled with so much darkness, destruction, and death, we can still join joyfully in the words of our responsorial psalm: AFor king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise. God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne. Amen”  (Psalm 47:5, 7-8)
Let me close with a personal anecdote. Some time ago I attended a concert of the St. Louis Symphony orchestra in Powell Symphony Hall. The featured soloist that evening was the internationally celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma. If you have ever seen and heard him, either in person or perhaps through a video clip on the Internet, you know that he really gets into the music he plays, swaying back and forth, and visibly carried away by the beauty of the music he is playing. In a graceful introduction to his appearance the evening I heard him, David Robertson, Music Director of our Symphony orchestra, outlined some of the highlights of Yo Yo Ma=s musical career, and concluded with the remark: AEverywhere he goes, Yo Yo Ma spreads joy.@ How wonderful if people could say that of us.
If we are trying to stay close to Jesus Christ, and center our lives on Him,
they will!