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MAY 24, 2009: ASCENSION OF JESUS

Readings: 

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Mark 16:15-20

(For those who celebrate the Ascension on the Seventh Sunday of Easter)

Jesus’ first followers quickly experienced something they could never have imagined when they opted to make his faith their faith. Though they still did many of the things they did before they started listening to this Capernaum carpenter’s preaching, they discovered he was constantly taking them beyond the things which normally occupied their everyday lives. Eventually, as we’ll see, their experience of going beyond led some of them to actually leave their native Galilee and travel to places they’d never imagined visiting before they encountered Jesus of Nazareth. 


Yet even those disciples who geographically stayed put still reflected on how their imitation of Jesus’ dying and rising moved them to experience reality from a whole new perspective. Just as traveling to new places forces us to look at “home” differently, so their faith forced them to look at the people and events of their everyday lives differently.

The disciple of Paul who composed the letter to the Ephesians expresses that insight in classic terms. Just as God has taken the risen Jesus beyond this world, “seating him at his right hand in the heavens,” so God has enlightened us, giving us a taste of “the surpassing greatness of his powers.” After all, according to Paul’s theology, we’re Jesus’ body, “the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” What happened to Jesus continues to happen to us, his body.

Luke begins the second volume of his scriptural work with Jesus’ geographic plan for evangelization. Everything in his first volume converged in Jerusalem - the place where suffering, death and resurrection happened. In Acts, everything goes out of Jerusalem. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” But between chapters 1 and 28, where Paul finally reaches Rome (the end of the earth), there will be many places Jesus’ followers will visit which they had no idea they’d ever go, often more psychological than geographic.

Their moving begins with their question, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” In other words, “Are you going to throw the Romans out and restore home rule?” Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection, some of his followers still thought things outside them would change, instead of they themselves change. Even if the Romans didn’t move back to Italy, Jesus expected his Spirit-filled followers to move their perspective on Roman occupation. Those Christians who weren’t concerned with going to the ends of the earth still would have to move their mentality far enough not only to convert the heretical Samaritans, but one day to admit non-Jews into their communities.

Even the bishops at the Council of Trent (1545) were convinced Mark didn’t write today’s gospel pericope. The author of these extra verses simply didn’t want the gospel to end as abruptly as it does in verse 8, with the women leaving the empty tomb, saying nothing to anyone about Jesus’ resurrection. In the original gospel ending, the risen Jesus is simply “out there.” No telling when, where or in whom we’ll encounter him or her.

But one way we can be certain we’ve had such an encounter is to notice the force it brings into our lives, making us go beyond where we were before we came face to face with this “new creation.” Jesus’ disciples were certain about one thing: he never let them stay put.