Ascension Sunday A
May 24, 2020
Matthew 28: 16-20
By Rev. John Tran
Have you heard the story of a sea captain who was guiding his ship on a very dark night? He saw faint lights in the distance and told his signalman to send a message, “Alter your course 10 degrees south.” A prompt message returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” The captain became angry because his command had been ignored, so he sent a second message, “I command you to alter your course 10 degrees south!” Again, a message promptly returned, “Alter your course 10 degrees north.” Infuriated, the captain sent off a third message: “I am the captain, and this is a battleship. Alter your course 10 degrees south!” Once again, a prompt reply came, “Alter your course 10 degrees north – I am a lighthouse.” These last words of Jesus are the signal we are to obey. No wonder we label the call “the Great Commission.” The tragedy of the Church – our great sin – is that the Great Commission of Jesus is our “great Omission.”
With Jesus’ Ascension to the Father, we are on our own. The disciples still seem to be not too sure what to expect. In Matthew’s account, he points out that when they saw Jesus on the mountain, “they worshiped him, but they still doubted.” And in the account in Acts, Luke tells us that the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the Kingdom to Israel?” From our viewpoint in time, these reactions seem to be pitiful and without any understanding of who Jesus was, what his message was, and what had been his purpose while among them. Remember, Jesus had spent 40 days with them since the Resurrection making sure that his followers knew that he was really alive, and “spoke about the kingdom of God.” We might ask, ‘what’s not to understand?’ It seem so obvious to us that Jesus was not going to establish a political Kingdom; after all, his kingdom was not of this world. So what did this Ascension accomplish?
We notice in Luke that the Ascension was absolutely necessary. There had to be one final moment when Jesus went back to the glory shared with his Father and Spirit. The forty days with the disciples was a unique time of instruction and loving companionship. It reassures the disciples that the Jesus they knew had indeed arisen and spent time with them. But this time could not go on forever. Jesus had physically gone, but he assured them that he was not gone forever. And because of this, they and us are brought face to face with Jesus’ Second Coming. We must be prepared to be greeted by Jesus again and live in a way that makes us ready. And we have to ask ourselves, what kind of kingdom is Jesus establishing?
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus assures his followers of his power. Surely, nothing was outside the power of him who had died and conquered death. Now they were servants of a Master whose authority upon earth and in heaven was beyond all question. But it is not just a question of power; Jesus gave them a commission. He sent the out to make all the world his disciples, to baptize all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. No one is to be left out. Finally, Jesus promised the disciples his presence. It must have been a staggering thing for the eleven humble Galileans to be sent forth to the conquest of the world. Even as they heard it, their hearts must have failed them. However, no sooner than Jesus commanded them, he told them, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world.”
But the story is not complete, and it will not be until next Sunday, Pentecost. Their lingering doubt and uncertainty about what kingdom they were announcing would be made clearer as the Holy Spirit enters their lives. Even today, we can find ourselves facing the same doubt and uncertainty. What goes into making the Kingdom of God and how do we do it? One moment it all seems so clear, and in the next moment, we are unsure about what we are called to do in Jesus’ name. How are we to help bring about this Kingdom of the Father; it seems like a staggering task, just as it did to the disciples.
First, we take it one day at a time. Opportunities will present themselves without our having to manufacture them. We have to remain attentive and be watchful and listen. Jesus is present among us today in his Word and Eucharist. When we read his gospel, we find the way. His presence is in us as we receive his Body and Blood. Jesus’ kingdom means to turn the world as we know it upside down. What is asked of us may be something small or large. But whatever, it may not be convenient; it may even turn us on our heads. It may be a needy person we meet, whether their need is physical or spiritual. Will it cost us our time, resources, or make us stand up against injustice? Will our neighbors or coworkers look at us in disbelief? Will we, too, need to call on the Holy Spirit to give us strength and courage. We will become the lighthouse which guides people to God instead of contributing to the great sin of omission.