Mission Transmitted!: Ascension Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB – The Ascension Of The Lord –
Sermon And Christian Act In The Word
Theme: The Ascension of the Lord! He has ascended but he has given us a great mission! Mission Transmitted!
Point of Reflection: On the Sunday of the Ascension, we commemorate the transition between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of his successors. This invites us to reflect on our calling to share in the mission of Christ.
In this context, the Church gives us this Sunday to examine ourselves as Christians who have been chosen and called, not only to benefit from the salvation won by Christ for us but also to be men and women who transmit the message of Christ to all, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christ in today’s liturgy is entrusting to us the task of continuing his mission among all people.
To carry out this mission we must allow the Holy Spirit to direct us at every step.
First Reading: Acts 1:1–11
Psalm: Psalm 47:2–3, 6–9
Second Reading: Ephesians 1:17–23
Gospel: Luke 24:46–53
Sermon (Reflection): Quite reflective to note is that the first reading contains the opening section of the book of Acts, where St. Luke makes a literary transition between the Gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts. Luke’s first volume, the Gospel, contained an account of the life and ministry of Jesus, while the second volume will present the work of his successors, the Apostles. Both volumes are dedicated to the same person, Theophilus, probably a new convert to Christianity which simply means love of God and probably a patron who sponsored Luke’s work. To link the two volumes, Luke begins the book of Acts with the same event that concluded the Gospel, thus, the ascension of Jesus.
The account of the ascension in Acts is more detailed than in the Gospel. It begins with Jesus announcing the imminent coming of the Holy Spirit. The disciples wondered whether this event would bring about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Their question was justified because, according to the prophecy of Joel (Cf. Joel 2:28-32), the outpouring of God’s Spirit would be a sign of the arrival of the “day of the Lord” and the final restoration of the nation (Cf. Acts 2:17).
Jesus enlightened the disciples, stating that the coming of the Holy Spirit would not bring history to an end. On the contrary, it would open a new chapter in history, marked by the apostles’ witness to Jesus. Their mission would be universal, starting with Jerusalem, and then extending to the ends of the earth. These were Jesus’ parting words to his successors, who remained in the world to continue Jesus’ work by proclaiming salvation in his name.
This transition was not easy for the apostles. Luke describes them as standing alone and gazing up towards heaven as if refusing to accept that Jesus is no longer with them. To move them out of this paralysis, two men in white robes appeared. These were the same men who appeared to the women in Jesus’ empty tomb. Speaking to the women in the tomb, these men asked why they were looking for a living one among the dead. Now, speaking to the apostles, they asked why they are standing still looking up toward heaven. They followed the question with the reassurance that Jesus’ departure is not final. He will return at an appointed time. Their words imply that the disciples ought not to passively wait for Jesus’ return, but to get on with the work that he entrusted to them. The apostles subsequently returned to Jerusalem and began preparations for Pentecost.
The ascension of Jesus marks the moment when the disciples effectively began their independent work in the world. Up to this point, they were Jesus’ disciples. Now, they will be Jesus’ apostles who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will be responsible for bringing the message of salvation to the entire world.
The Gospel reading contains the conclusion of Luke’s story of Jesus, describing the same events narrated in the opening lines of Acts. Here, Jesus also prepares his disciples for their independent mission in the world, and then ascends to heaven, leaving them to carry out his instructions. These instructions begin with a reminder that, as the Messiah, Jesus was meant to die and rise again. They initially had great difficulties in accepting this truth. Next, Jesus states that repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name are to be proclaimed to all nations. This implies that the disciples, as witnesses to his resurrection, are responsible for carrying this message of salvation to the whole world. Finally, Jesus instructs them to return to Jerusalem and await the coming of the Holy Spirit who will empower and guide them. In his final act on earth, Jesus blesses them. This blessing signifies that God is with them as they begin this new stage of their life and ministry, just as God was with Jesus during his earthly mission.
Returning to heaven, Jesus left the disciples in the world as his successors. He prepared them for this moment in the course of his ministry. Now, this transition is complete.
Christian Act in Word of God “Mission Transmitted”
Reflecting on the first reading of today helps us to understand the transition from Christ to his successors, the apostles. However, Christ also passes to us the baton of his mission as apostles of today. In the African tradition kings and great leaders pass on the baton of leadership to their heirs before they leave this world. Before their death they prepare their heirs training them in the traditions and customs of the people and passing on to them the sacred teachings and secrets of the kingdom. These heirs afterwards carry on the mission of the leaders ensuring that the people and their way of life continues. As we see in the Scriptures, Jesus also prepared his followers for the mission ahead of them through his teaching and life witness.
The mission of saving the world does not end with Christ but continues through us, his followers.
The liturgy also reminds us about the community of saints, that is the believers in Christ. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we were incorporated in the body of Christ and together we are carrying out the will of the head of the body, who is Christ himself. Through this community of believers, God is present and active in the world. The community of saints is a living organism that works together to accomplish God’s goals. The transition from Christ to his followers was not an easy, one but with the assistance of the Holy Spirit the mission of the community of believers continues until today.
The second reading contains Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, which follows his splendid description of how God acted to save humanity through Jesus (cf. Eph 1:3-14). Paul prays for wisdom and revelation so that the believers in Ephesus might fully grasp and appreciate the immensity of what God has done for them. Let us pray for ourselves that we may not fail in the mission we have been given by God.
In the Gospel, we read about Christ commissioning his successors to go to all nations and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to everyone. As successors of Christ today we Christians are called to witness to what we believe. It is important to evaluate ourselves on how we witness to our faith.
Witnessing with ones’ life is an essentially important tool that speaks volumes because the way we live our lives confirms and reflects our belief and our relationship with the saviour.
The Ascension of Christ marks the beginning of the mission of Christ’s followers to all nations. Thus, we are guided by the liturgy to reflect on how we are carrying out the mission of Christ today. This mission requires from us the opening of ourselves to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, so that, in communion with the body of Christ, consisting of other believers, we may bring Christ to those who do not know him. Let us open our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit and carry on the mission with love and peace.
Action: I accept the mission.
Prayer: God Almighty, as your Son ascends to you, grant us the grace to carry out the mission he has entrusted to us, his followers. May we never resist the workings of your Holy Spirit in us. Increase our faith and the courage to live Christian values in our world. May we witness to the gift of your salvation with our very life. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, Amen.
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