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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
Jesus’ ministry is a living entity. We don’t just memorize a plan, then keep repeating it. It’s something to be experienced, a new event every day.
JUNE 2ND, 2019: ASCENSION OF THE LORD
We always encounter confusion when we deal with Jesus’ ascension. Only those who ignore Scripture and simply adhere to our yearly liturgical framework are spared the mixed messages our sacred authors convey. Though the vast majority of Christians believe Jesus ascended to heaven 40 days after his resurrection and is securely ensconced in that celestial zip code, only one evangelist actually narrates such an event: Luke in his Acts of the Apostles. It’s clear from Mark, Matthew and John’s narratives that the risen Jesus is simply “out there” somewhere. He/she hasn’t gone anywhere. The risen Christ could “pop up” anytime at anyplace to anyone.
Even today’s Lucan gospel pericope doesn’t appear to describe a definite departure. The passage talks about Jesus being “taken up to heaven,” but within the first verses of Acts he’s again back among his followers teaching them for 40 days. It appears the evangelist is saying only that at this point of salvation history Jesus comes and goes. I, for instance, can “go to the store,” but a little later in the day, I’ll be back. In this case, Jesus is not yet leaving us for good.
The Pauline disciple responsible for the letter to the Ephesians isn’t much help. He simply speaks poetically about the position the risen Jesus maintains in each of our lives. Among other things, God has seated him/her “at his right hand in the heavens, far about every principality, authority, power and dominion and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.” Beautiful thought, but poetry isn’t history. In some sense it’s parallel to telling your significant other, “The sun and moon rise over you.”
Taking that for granted, the question students of Scripture must answer is, “Why does Luke uniquely remove Jesus?” Why does he disagree with the other three evangelists on that point? He alone claims Jesus leaves and doesn’t come back. He seems to take the ascension literally, not poetically. There must be a reason for him to have developed such a theology.
According to most scholars, Luke uniquely seems to zero in on the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. For him that “promise of my Father” is at the heart of the Christian community. We can’t carry on Jesus’ ministry without the Spirit. How would we know what to do or in what direction to proceed? Jesus’ ministry is a living entity. We don’t just memorize a plan, then keep repeating it. It’s something to be experienced, a new event every day. According to Luke, we’re continually learning there’s more than one way to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Without the Spirit, the message of Jesus dies.
In some sense, Luke thinks it’s necessary to get Jesus “out of the way” before the Spirit “takes over,” the Spirit who will empower us to be Jesus’ witnesses “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” That seems to be why Luke’s angel warns the disciples to stop “looking up to the sky.” The Jesus whom many first century Christians are still expecting to come back in the Parousia is now gone. Though we presume he’ll eventually return, we’ve work to do in the meantime. And it’s the Spirit who will guide us into and through that work. What a shame to miss the main event while we’re waiting for a preliminary event to take place.
Were we in Luke’s place today, what would we want “out of the way?” What’s keeping us from making the Spirit the center of our lives? Any ideas? As a scriptural Catholic I suspect our hierarchical system would garner more than a few votes.
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