The Ascension Of The Lord Reflection
But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus appointed them, “And seeing him they prostrated themselves; but some doubted. And, approaching, Jesus spoke to them, saying, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, instruct all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, “Teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you; and see: I am with you every day until the consummation of the age.” (Mathew 28:16-20)
Without hope, life becomes a meaningless, dreary, grey monotony, a cycle of familiar and recurring events. Many now face this reality without the diversion of daily toil. Others now face this reality without the diversions of the rich and famous. We most certainly are not all in the same boat, yet we all face the same tempest. We must have hope!
In these dark times, we remember the promise of Jesus at the Last Supper: “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many mansions. If not, I would have told you: because I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2). The hope that springs from our faith is expressed as a coming together as a community of common believers to express that hope and Thanksgiving, our joy in the gospel. As the community of believers, the Church is the assembly (ekklesia) of all who believe in Jesus the Christ; or the fellowship (koinonia) of all who are bound together by their common love for Christ the Redeemer.
The Catholic Church has been defined as a union of human beings who are united by the profession of the same Christian faith, and by the participation of and in the same sacraments. At the Second Vatican Council, this concept of the Church was qualified subjectively to include all who are baptized and profess their faith in Jesus the Christ. They are the People of God, whom God has chosen to be God’s own and on whom are bestowed the special graces of his providence.
Today’s gospel reading from Matthew was coined in the 16 or 17th Century as the “great commission”. There is a long-standing and often acrimonious debate regarding the exegesis, hermeneutics, and the polemics that have been used, or depending on your view, abused, by the proponents of missionary activity coupled to slavery, conquest and colonization.
Literary, historical and textual criticism (see bottom) and philological analysis means little for people today in their everyday struggle of life. In this pandemic lockdown situation, we have become an introvert community, brooding over security, survival, and prosperity.
As a microcosm of the world community, we as church are also facing our existential crisis. Throughout the world, this coming together as a community to express our faith that gives us hope has been deemed as “non-essential”. This has been aggravated by the reality of runaway infection inherent in the nature of our coming together, our greetings and affections, our sacraments, and our communion.
Pope Francis reminds us that the Ascension doesn’t indicate Jesus’ absence, but rather it tells us that He is living among us in a new and universal way. Christ with us in a new and universal way.
“An Extraordinary Prayer in the Time of Pandemic”, was held on the night of 27 Mar 2020, streamed live online but with an eerily empty St Peters Square. As the Pope prayed and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, I felt the urgent need to accompany the Pope in this heavy burden that was upon him. As I knelt in my own little Hermitage Chapel, I felt not only a participation but also a union with this frail old man; a union of souls that is the inherent quality of every Sacrament that leads us into that liminal space of transformation.
My experience of online masses has however not reflected this participation, union, or communion. Something doesn’t quite gel; as though clericalism has found its highest expression. It is perhaps the underlying unspoken statement that from here, from this church, and through this priestly performance, holiness and sanctity are being streamed into our homes. Pope Francis recently spoke of such online Eucharistic celebrations creating “gnostic familiarity” but not community.
Many years ago as a chaplain at Pretoria University, I received an early morning telephone call from one of the students. He was calling me on his mobile phone from an ambulance after having been involved in a terrible car accident. Fearful of death and damnation, this young person made his confession online and I spoke the words of absolution and God’s mercy and compassion.
The church today speaks to us in a new and universal way. A new plenary indulgence to those around the world affected by the coronavirus. For persons near death from the virus and unable to receive the sacraments because of isolation measures, the decree says they can obtain the indulgence “at the point of death, as long as they have recited some prayers during their life.”
If any single sacrament can become such an instrument of God’s love without direct physical connection, surely all sacraments must carry this same power of God’s transcendent ability. Perhaps now is the time to look beyond the law and discover those links between our faith and science when it comes to such transcendent liminal moments, moments beyond time and space, moments of participation, union, and communion.
A new and universal way of hope; small communities formed by and with those neighbours around us, coming together in solidarity and prayer. Coming together to share then and there in our homes in that bread and wine, to share then and there in our homes that Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ that transcends time and space. Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” (John 6:35)
Initially, there may be much longing for days that are passed and those great gatherings in the great cathedrals. Initially, there might be great anger and grinding teeth at the loss of power and the loss of revenue. I believe that with patience, compassion, and perseverance, a new way forward will be found. Perhaps in this new poverty and vulnerability, we can journey together towards discovering that transcendent power of Love; to see with the eyes of God as God looks upon that good creation and so fully partake in that participation and union that is the nature of Love.
This perhaps is a better translation of the great commission to go and proclaim the good news to ALL of creation. This is a reflection of God’s love that extends to all of creation and all life. Community is where we find it.
Now is the universal Christ present in every space and time, close to each one of us. In our lives we are never alone: we have this Advocate who awaits us and defends us. We are never alone. With us, there are many brothers and sisters who, in their family life and their work, in their problems and difficulties, in the ordinariness and their boredom, in their joys and hopes, daily living the faith that brings, together with us, God’s love to the world.
In Jesus the Christ, risen and ascended into Heaven, we have an Advocate in every corner of space and time as we have the hope of our destiny.
The Hebrew religious language of Scripture expresses a mature system of aesthetics in which both beauty and art are understood as both social and as religious phenomena. The Greek language of philosophy and metaphysics counted reason as the path to truth and tranquillity, the wisdom needed to live our lives. When Jesus spoke, he spoke in Aramaic, the Semitic language of his region. The Semitic culture, cosmology, and psychology are very different from the Greek language-based orthodoxy and theology that is present in the current translations of Bibles that stem from Greek, Latin, and Romance Languages to modern English. The growth of Christianity in the Western Roman world necessitated revised, authoritative, and standardised translations of Scripture into Latin, the language of the Empire. In the year 382, the gifted linguist, St Jerome was commissioned to undertake this task. Jerome believed that a good translator will give the new language equal weight with the original and will try to make the translation equivalent to the original not just in meaning but also in the quality of style. Any translation should reflect the new language used at its best. The principle that Jerome used as he translated was not “word for word” but “sense for sense.”