The Church's time - our time

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

Ascension Sunday

Salvation history — the intervention of God in human affairs — may be divided into three periods: the promise of a Savior, its fulfillment, and the time of the Church. The promise of a Savior was first made in Genesis when talking to the serpent (devil) after the Fall of our first parents, God said, “He (the woman's offspring) will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). Over the centuries, this vague promise was made more explicit by the prophets. This was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ who redeemed humankind through His passion, death and resurrection. His Ascension into heaven marks the end of the time of Jesus and signals the beginning of the time of the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Luke ends his gospel with a brief account of the Ascension of Jesus (Lk. 24:46–53) which he described in greater detail in the beginning of his second book, the Acts of the Apostles (1:1–11). Acts tells us that after Jesus gave His final message to His disciples and with all of them looking on, “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.” The “cloud” mentioned is no ordinary cloud. In the Old Testament, it was a sign not only of the Father's closeness to His people but also of His presence. The Father who was at work in the Ascension of Jesus.

There is one detail worth noting in Jesus' Ascension. It took place in Bethany, the place from which Jesus entered Jerusalem to be acclaimed on Palm Sunday as the one “who comes in the name of the Lord” (Lk. 19:38). It was also from Bethany that Jesus entered the “heavenly Jerusalem” — the “dwelling place” of His Father.

St. Paul makes this more explicit in the second reading (Eph. 1:17-23). He tells us that God the Father had Jesus seated “at his right hand in the heavens.” To be seated at God's right hand is a Hebrew idiom for “To share power with God.” This is another way of saying that the Father has made Jesus Lord of heaven and earth — which is what we really celebrate on the feast of the Ascension.

Moreover, when the Father took Jesus into heaven, He also made special provisions for His departure: He would send down the Holy Spirit. To John the Evangelist, the Holy Spirit is the presence on earth of Jesus who has returned to the Father. Thus though Jesus is no longer physically with us, He will always be present among us in His Spirit to the end of time.

Immediately before His Ascension, Jesus gave the disciples their final mission, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The same mission is now ours, both as individuals and as a community of believers — as Church. The saving work began by Jesus is now to be continued by the Church through us her members. In effect, now is the time of the Church — our time. Jesus now invites us, as Church, to participate in His mission. We are now to make all the decisions and carry them out. Difficult? Certainly. But also a big challenge and task.

Of course, we are not in this alone. We have Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father as Lord of heaven and earth who gave us His Spirit to work in the world in and through us. Jesus by His Father's side and His Spirit with us — if that is not power, what is? And we have all this behind us as we participate in the proclamation of Jesus' saving work throughout the world.

But before we can proclaim Jesus to others, our first task is to make sure that we make Jesus the Lord of our hearts. This we can do by prayerfully reflecting on His words and by living according to His teachings and commandments. This is the equivalent of Jesus' order to the disciples to return to Jerusalem after His Ascension to await the coming of His Spirit. We have to make time to become more and more like Christ in everything. Then we can proclaim the Good News to others through our words and deeds so that Jesus will also reign in their hearts.

A big task indeed. But unlike the men of Galilee who were admonished by Jesus after He was taken away from their sight saying, “Why are you standing there looking at the sky?,” we, as individuals and as Church, have to start continuing Jesus' saving work, trusting that His Spirit will always be there to guide and inspire us. In other words, our ears, eyes, mouth, hands and feet — our entire being — are now at the disposal of the Spirit in bringing the Good News to others.

It is said that charity begins at home. In carrying out Jesus' mission, most of us do not have to go far. We can work right there where God has placed us — in the home and school, our workplaces, among our peers, in our community, our parish, etc. And we are not to fear. For Jesus is in us through His Spirit.