THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
BREAKING OPEN THE WORD
The Ministry entrusted to me by virtue of Ordination, is to break open the Word. I am not a writer as such, I am a proclaimer of God’s Word. Therefore the style of my realhomilie is a preaching style. I do apologise for any typos…they are so had to find at times……. I pray that God’s Word finds a home in you, and that your response to God’s constant invitations, will be like a burning fire within you, which cannot be contained.
“And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.” The last paragraph of today’s Gospel reading.
Dear One and All,
Departures can be horrible experiences! Even if we are off overseas for the trip of a life time, tears and lots of hugs abound, either at the Airport, or at the International terminal at Sydney Harbour. Emotions are on a ‘high’ when we have to leave family, and friends and the place that we know so well. As the time approaches for departure at the Airport, and people have to disappear behind the screen to get checked in, and be x-rayed; the departure still may be 45 mins away! Back in the Terminal our relatives and friends go to the nearest big window just to see the Jet that will carry their friends….but which Jet? The atmosphere is somewhat uncertain….”will we go home now? Or shall we wait to see the aeroplane, if it is the right one, take off?” It’s upsetting, till someone says, ‘Let’s go and get a Coffee?’
On the other hand, seeing people off who are going overseas by Ship is much better, but we still try and hang on to our friends as long as we can…..look at this photo.
Look at all the streamers connected between loved ones on the Wharf, and those on board the ship. Unfortunately this is a black and white photo of the SS Strathaird in Sydney, bound for South Hampton in the UK. (It’s at least a 6 week voyage, via the Cape of Good Hope. The Suez Canal was blocked from 1948 till sometime in the late 50’s or early 60’s due to a War in Egypt, so ships going to the UK had to go the long way) Back at the Wharf, the streamers were of many colours. My family have often been on that wharf to farewell our Grandparents who were going back home to England for a Holiday. We used to hang on to the streamers with all our might, as the Tug Boat pulled the big liner out from the wharf…then when the streamers broke, it was a real sad good bye! But was it? In some ways yes, in other ways, no! “Don’t forget to send us some postcards!” We long to keep in touch with our loved ones. Let’s not forget that human element as we ponder the mystery of the Ascension!
Today, we celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into heaven. A departure in a sense! Please have a good look at the faces in the famous Rembrandt’s painting. Each face of the 11 Apostles tells a story. They are not happy!! There are questions on their faces; two of them are in very close proximity to each other in comfort. There is a sense of wonder in their faces and questionings, also. Notice that the Ascension according to Rembrandt took place within their midst! Notice the darkness surrounding the light. What does that mean? The answer will unfold shortly. However, we must not look at this Feast on its own; it is a major part of the Easter Mystery. May I add that these three Feasts are about us as well as Jesus? This understanding will unfold a bit later on in the homilie. This Feast could well be seen as a major part of a triptych, that means, the name given to a set of three paintings, usually hinged together, and you gaze at the works of art from left to right, and it forms a big picture of three scenes that are deeply connected, and each painting is necessary for the total image.
Here is an example: – By Rogier Van Der Weyden.
So the Easter mystery is comprised of:-The Resurrection of Jesus, The Ascension of Jesus, and the coming of the Advocate – Pentecost!
As we look into the mystery of this Feast of the Ascension, and what it is trying to say to us, I think that we need to have a good look at the three Readings provided for us in the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday. It is handy to be able to look up these Readings in your own Bible. The First Reading is from The Acts of the Apostles 1:1-13; The Second Reading is ( optional Reading for year B) St. Paul to the Ephesians 4:1-13, and the Gospel is Mark 16:15-20. Let’s look at the three readings today like a Triptych. We need to gaze on each reading in a Meditative way, to take it slowly and be curious….’Lord, what are you saying to me through your Holy Word?’ We are not doing any scientific research here; rather let God’s Word light up our pathway of understanding, so that the full import of the message of the Ascension, with the Resurrection as the left hand side, and Pentecost as the right hand side of our triptych completes the picture for us. As we gaze at it at it in this way, we will see the centrality of the Ascension, which is the connecting mystery of the Resurrection and Pentecost; and we are part of that mystery too; I wonder how? You might like to get yourself a nice Coffee or Irish Breakfast Tea, to help you through the rest of this real realhomilie.
Icon of St. Luke
While reading Luke-Acts there are many references to the Holy Spirit, do keep an eye out for them. The Lucan Gospel comprises of part I, and the Acts of the Apostles is part II. Luke begins by saying to his friend Theophilus, that in his first Book – The Gospel, he dealt with the things that Jesus did, said and what others said about him. Notice the name of Luke’s friend? It is a Greek name meaning God-Lover; therefore that should be the name for all of us; we are all God lovers! So, having given his friend the a definition of what the Good News is…namely the things that Jesus as said, and done, and what others have have said about him, that same definition could well apply to each of us. In short, we are living, walking and loving editions of the Good News. We can all say that we are the Gospel according to Kevin, or your name_____is the Gospel and we have the Gospel according to Genny, or Mario, or Christina, or Bassam or Miriam. It would do us good, to reflect upon our lives in looking at the things that Jesus has said and done, and what others have said about Him, by way of readings our own Gospel, according to us.….Food for thought!.
Notice that after the Resurrection, Our Lord appeared to the Apostles for about 40 Days. Now, at this point, we must not get stuck on exactly 40 days…..Biblically speaking it was a considerably long time. During that time a gradual ‘change’, a ‘new creation’, had taken place within the minds and hearts of not only the Apostles, but for many other people too. Remember that way back in Biblical History, it rained for a long time in Noah’s day……how long? 40 Days. When our ancestors in faith were liberated through the waters of the Sea of Reeds, they wondered around in circles in the Sinai Desert for how long? 40 days. After the Baptism of Jesus he went out into the desert for how long? 40 days, so that he could relive his ancestors long desert Retreat, and so be changed and strengthened through that experience. At this point it is handy to know that Christian spirituality flourishes in a Desert; not necessarily in a Rain Forest.…The desert experience can enable a special inner ‘change of heart’ to take place or if we use the correct Greek word, metanoia, it can mean seeing the whole world, and oneself in a changed way! So, during this time of 40 days of appearances of the Lord in a new way, as distinct from the Jesus of History, the Apostles, in particular were undergoing a massive ‘change’ in coming to know, and believe, in the Christ of faith. Remember St. Thomas, the doubting one said that he needed to be able to see and touch the wounds in the Risen Lord before he would believe! Look what happened to him! Thomas on behalf of all of us ‘doubters’ could say the only acclamation that could be said at his recognition of the Risen Lord….”My Lord and my God”
Notice that the Risen Lord ‘was at table’ with them, and that Jesus asked them to stay in Jerusalem, and WAIT!!!! For whom? The Promised one, the Advocate! It seems that according to the text that there are Eucharistic overtones in this Lucan language….o, the Apostles are within a Eucharistic moment of the deepest thanksgiving as ‘they were at Table…’ when Risen Lord spoke to them, and gave them instructions, and nourished them……More Food for thought!
We move on…..I told you that you would need a Coffee or strong Tea….maybe it’s time for a second cuppa or something a little stronger like some Coke! A vital instruction that the Risen Lord gave his Apostles, was that they would be given a special person, in the form of the Holy Spirit, who would empower them to go out, and proclaim in loving boldness, that the Kingdom of God is here, right now, but not fully completed, till the Lord Jesus returns. Our Lord says to the eleven, that the Holy Spirit will give you POWER to be the living Christ in His Church, the New Israel. What kind of POWER? In our modern day language we have all kinds of meanings for power…..power as electricity, power up an outboard motor on a speed boat. Someone may use his or her power in authority to create something good, or cramp any possibilities of goodness and adventure, growing in people or in Societies. We don’t have to look too far to see those elements alive and well in our world today….not only in overseas countries…but even close at hand; maybe even in our homes! Our Religious Communities, our Church! So what is Biblical POWER? Well it seems that the power that Jesus spoke about, and the Gospel communities repeat is a ‘dynamic’ which has its home within, the very WORDS FROM GOD. When God speaks, the very utterance has an inner activity and movement, which will complete what it was sent to do. God’s Word when spoken does not return empty! It seems that ‘the power’ that Jesus speaks about, is an inner zeal, because it is propelled by the truth and covenant love of the Lord God freely given to His Church. In going back to the final paragraph of the first Reading, it speaks of the Lord Jesus being taken away from them, while he was speaking to the apostles. It would seem that the Apostles were not even a stone’s throw away; they were right there with Jesus while this was happening. It seems that their understanding, and present engagement with each other and the Lord, was telling them that the Christ of Faith will not be around them like he was during the last 40 days. Let’s go back to Sydney Wharf, seeing the SS Strathaird departing….we yell out, “don’t forget to send us some postcards!!!” In this case with the Lord, it will be in the form of the Holy Spirit!
Ascension by Giotto
Notice that a cloud veiled them from Jesus….The cloud in Biblical language is generally associated with the nearness of the Lord God, in a veiled way. Remember the cloud on Sinai? The Cloud which led the chosen people by day, and the cloud that enveloped Jesus, Moses and Elijah within the conversation of the Transfiguration? Let’s look at the two men in white standing near them, at the moment of the Ascension. These people in white invite the Apostles from Galilee to switch their vision to the people on the ground…..they will be their Mission, and that is where they will find Christ’s living body, after the time of empowerment at Pentecost. The two men in white is a poetic way for the Apostles and us to keep both feet on the ground, and to get on with the Mission in the Galilee of our lives. This empowerment could well entail the giving and bestowing on the Church of the Wisdom of God, which could well be seen as the ‘life’ which runs through the veins of the Grape Vine, which when pruned by the Word will enable a bounty of fruit; fruit that will last. Again…Food for Thought!
St. Paul by El Greco
In the Second reading, St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:17-23, we are looking upon it as the second panel in our Biblical triptych. This passage needs to be read through very slowly; let the words sink into you like good floor polish entering a hungry Oak stained floor boards. Then re-read it again, this time being deeply curious, so that you have the time to gaze at the words, while they echo inside you. Then read it again, this time pausing where you feel that you need to rest, and absorb God’s Word. Try and let the words echo inside you, so that within the chamber of your being, as response gently percolates to the surface of your being, and then let the words rest in you, as though you were in space with no gravity to hold you…just drift with the words till there is a stunning silence within. Don’t let the silence worry you; you are not doing a task, you are in a state of ‘silence’ in which the deepest conversations take place. Sometimes with the ‘silence’, the noise of God’s Word can be deafening! When you feel that you need to move on to be refreshed by the Word, do so, quietly and gently. This is called a form of Lectio Divina……Holy Reading….it is in those moments of nothingness, stillness and a feeling of orbiting in space ……that is when ‘prayer’ is happening. We call that Oratio. Let the Spirit within you speak in the Spirit’s own language while you are still in readiness to receive it. I bet that you are saying, where can I do this? Because there are so many distractions around me? Very true! All phones must be turned off, anything that buzzes, clicks or plays music telling that you are a new friend on Facebook, must be turned off! (Not for long) In short, you really need to be in a space that you call ‘sacred’ and that you are comfortable…..try it for 10 mins for starters. After doing this in short moments of time, regularly, slightly increase it…….The results can be stunning! But like taking Vitamin B Plus tablets, you won’t be jumping over the moon the next day…….it will take at least a month to get into the routine and rhythm of the lead up to ‘Prayer’
St. Mark by Donatello
Now, we look at the third panel; the Gospel of today: – Mark 16:15-20. In these accounts of the Ascension, we would be going down the wrong road, if we are solely looking for an editorial account of what actually happened, as we may find on BBC News. The accounts of the Ascension are more about a sophisticated poetry, than details on how it happened! We ought to be more concerned about the implications of what it means for us within the economy of Salvation. We are just as much caught up in the meaning of the Ascension as Jesus! Now, some people might not agree about that, but who is the Ascension for? It seems that it is a two way street; the implications of the gradual disappearance of the Lord, as was experienced during his earthly life, and then during the 40 days after the His Resurrection, speak about the gradual elevation of the Christian Community to understand, live and act as the Body of Christ – The Church-Now! The Gospel account today in Mark, makes the theological and missionary elements very clear for us – as the Church! ‘Go and proclaim the Good News everywhere!’ Who’s Good News? The Lord Jesus’ Good News, and this is empowered by the Pentecost event which we will look at soon.
The last paragraph of today’s Gospel is absolutely intrinsic as to whose Mission it is; it is God’s mission, fortified in Jesus, and animated through the ‘power’, the ‘creative wisdom’, the biblical ‘truth’ and ‘covenant love’, impels us to live, move and have our being in Christ! The Holy Spirit is then the driving force and living reminder of all the things that Jesus has said and done, and will do. As we look back in History, there are parts of that journey which are shameful, because we have used the Mission of God as our Mission to obtain greatness…..Imperialism in recent centuries have procured Christianity as a kind of ‘super glue’ as in Gospel, Glory and Gold, for overpowering nations. There has been since the edict of Constantine in 313 AD to abuse THE MISSION, and to wrongfully use Christianity as a way to oppress people, and support personal greatness. Sometimes the quest for personal glory and wealth, to the absolute discredit of the ‘commonwealth’ contained within the pristine MISSION, entrusted faithfully to us by God is used for personal and seeming angelic purposes! The leadership of the MISSION is so often tempted to, and succumbed by a benevolent Dictatorship when the proponents are lost within a maze of self-importance, and fair floss of ideas. These ways are not impelled by the Holy Spirit, but are generated by the inner engine of narcissism. The problem is that we can all fall into the seeming attractive position of greatness, while discarding the absolute images of the living Icon of Jesus. Our Lord’s washing the feet of His Disciples, together with the true meaning of the Cross, is the gateway to all MISSION. Unless, like Thomas the Apostle, we get down on our hands and knees, and be on ground zero with our sisters and brothers, listening to their woundedness, celebrating their milestones, being within energised Eucharistic Communities, who give thanks and praise to God in realistic, all embracing Liturgies, and not just acting out a Ritual; we are not within a Bull’s Roar of ‘Speaking the Truth in Love’… Maybe, to do that, we might need to ‘listen to the truth in humility’! Food for Thought.
‘ And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.’ (The concluding paragraph of today’s Gospel passage)
FROM WORD TO THANKSGIVING:
We give thanks to God our Father on this day, when the body of his Son, raised to him as an offering, fills us with joy in the hope of that life which will never end.
(Copied respectfully from the Glenstal Bible Missal, the Feast of the Ascension, Year B. Page 794)
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