Last Thursday we celebrated the Ascension of the Lord. We watched with the Apostles as Jesus rose into Heaven, and we heard the angels promise us: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into Heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into Heaven” (Acts 1:11). Therefore, we know that we are living in the time between Jesus’ first coming and his second coming.
As the Apostles stood staring up into the heavens after Jesus had ascended, the angels asked them, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?” They were telling the Apostles that it is time to move on. There is work to be done! It is as Pope Francis explains in our Spiritual Reflection for this week: “The Ascension exhorts us to lift our gaze toward Heaven, in order to return it immediately to the earth, to implement the tasks that the Risen Lord entrusts to us.”
So as we rejoice that God came among us in Jesus Christ, and as we await his coming again, we are to attend diligently to the mission that he has given us. And what is this mission? What are we to be doing with this short time that we have in the world? Our readings for today give us a clear answer to that question: we are to be witnesses in the world to Jesus’ saving Death and Resurrection. We are to continue his mission of making God’s love and mercy known in the world.
In the first reading, Peter and the Apostles are gathered with other believers, including the Blessed Virgin Mary, after the Ascension but before Pentecost. They are praying together. Peter receives the inspiration that they must choose someone to replace Judas in the company of the Apostles. He says, “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us … become with us a witness to his Resurrection.” This is the work of the followers of Jesus, to be witnesses to his Resurrection, and thus the Good News of his triumph over sin and death. (We read this passage two days ago, on the Feast of St. Matthias.)
In today’s second reading, St. John declares, “We have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.” He says that followers of Jesus are those who “acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God,” and who “have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.” Again, we learn that our work is to believe in what Jesus has done for us and to be a witness of his salvation in the world.
Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.” Our mission in the world is one with the mission of Christ himself. It is a continuation of the self-revelation which God has been giving humanity for all time. He wants his people to know his love and mercy. He began revealing himself through the patriarchs and prophets throughout the Old Testament. He sent his Son among us as the fullest revelation of himself. And now we are sent to be the ongoing instruments of God’s continuing self-revelation. This is the work which we are to be about during this time between the Ascension of Jesus and his second coming: making God’s love and mercy known and present in the world.
In the first reading, we can discover a great truth about our place in the plan of God. When the Apostles realize that their number is not complete, they know they must choose someone – or learn whom God has already chosen – to be a witness with them. Applying this to ourselves, we recognize that the number of witnesses to Jesus’ saving Death and Resurrection is incomplete because we are called to complete that company. Each of us is meant to be that “twelfth apostle.”
The truth of this awesome call is reflected in Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel, that we his followers become one with him as he is with the Father. It is also implied in St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians, where he proclaims that there is only “one Body and one Spirit, … one hope; … one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” (Eph 4:4-5). There is one work which Christ carried out, and which his Church continues to do in his name. We are members of that one Body, called, as the Apostles were, to be witnesses to the love and mercy of God shown in Christ Jesus.
We know that we are not worthy of such a call, nor are we capable of carrying it out on our own strength. Therefore we gather in prayer, in the upper room, with the Apostles and Mary during this week between the Ascension and Pentecost, and await the coming of the Holy Spirit, who will empower us for the great work to which we are called.
How am I continuing Jesus’ mission of making God’s love and mercy known to the world? During my short time here, am I attending diligently to the mission that God has given me? Will I gather this week in the Upper Room with Mary and the Apostles in prayer, preparing for the gift of the Sprit?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.