This Sunday in many places throughout the world, Christian believers celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus into paradise. The sacred event raises several questions which demand an awareness of a sequence of events.
After the Resurrection of the Lord, he spent forty days with his apostles and disciples. In this time, he re-taught them the Gospel. Having the Paschal Mystery for a context, the community of believers could now more fully understand who the Lord was, what he was promising them, and what he was asking them to do.
After these forty days, the Risen Lord ascended into heaven. As he ascended, the apostles stood watching the spectacular event. As they were gazing at the scene, two angels appeared and said to them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
The angelic pseudo-question was more of a declarative. It was a call to mission. The angels echoed the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus: “Go, and teach all nations.”
As this series of events is recalled, what do they mean for us? What significance do they have for believers in today’s world?
For all the time that has passed, and as much as the world has changed, the message is the same. The angelic declaration is just as much being said to us, as it was said to the apostles over two thousand years ago. Once again, we are asked, “Why are you just standing around looking into the sky?” We could say more colloquially, “Why are you just standing around idle and without purpose?”
Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, which we particularly hear proclaimed at Mass throughout the Easter Season, there are frequent accounts of men and women who heard the call of the Gospel and generously responded to it.
We’re told of Dionysius in Athens. When so many mocked Saint Paul’s preaching, he heard and accepted it. We’re also told of the holy woman and shrewd businesswoman Lydia. She also heard the Gospel and insisted on Saint Paul and his companions be the recipient of her hospitality. And then, of course, we are given the account of the married couple, Priscilla and Aquila. They heard the Gospel and made it their life. They were particularly dear to Saint Paul, as both his friends and co-workers in the truth.
In the array of people who heard the Gospel, we see every vocation represented. The call was received by people of every background, culture, and language. In each and every case, it was understood by the recipient of the Gospel that such a powerful message came with a pressing and immediate mission, and that they were now a part of that mission.
If someone received the Gospel, they were compelled by the Holy Spirit to share it. If someone became a member of God’s kingdom, they innately understood their summons to be an instrument in spreading that kingdom throughout the world.
The angelic voice at the Lord’s Ascension is a reminder of this responsibility. The angels hold nothing back. They call on the apostles – and on each of us – to acknowledge and fulfill the push within us to share and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel is a message of love, mercy, and reconciliation. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of truth, peace, hope, and selfless service. In contrast to the darkness of the fallen world, now conquered by the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, Christians are called to be different. They are called to a higher standard. They are to reflect the transformative power of God’s grace within them.
As such, believers are sent out to the world. They have taken up the mantle of the Gospel mission and are empowered to be light, salt, and leaven in the midst of our world.
Each of us, in our own ways, can come up with an endless list of excuses to avoid the Gospel summons. We can justify our inactivity, our omission, and our lack of willingness to take up our mandate. But, at the end of the day, the angels say to us what they said to the apostles – “Why are you just standing around here staring at the sky?” Or, to put it bluntly, “Go, and get to work!”
We are all, therefore, beckoned out of our slumber, self-obsession, and melancholy. We are invited to live the Lord Jesus’ most excellent way of love, and to generously announce the Gospel, knowing it to be the most powerful, life-giving message ever given to the human family.
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby