Scripture scholars would have us know that the Ascension of Jesus that we celebrate today should not be thought of as a historical commemoration. The resurrection of Jesus and his return to the Father are all part and parcel of the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The church separated them in order to contemplate the important meaning of two aspects of a single indivisible event.
The Resurrection celebrates the foundational truth of our Christian faith, the Father raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and death has no power over him anymore. The Ascension, the return of Jesus to the Father teaches us that the teaching and the works of Jesus are now our responsibility. When I say ‘our’ I’m talking about all of us – from people in the pews right up to the Pope.
Remember the song, “We’ve only just begun”? That is what this feast teaches us. The ascended Jesus says to each of us – again from Pope to pews, and from pews to Pope, I have no hands but yours to reach out and touch people’s pains. I have no hands but yours to lift up men, women and children downtrodden by poverty. I have no hands but yours to open the doors to refugees from other lands. I have no eyes but yours to see the injustices of the society in which you live. I have no voice but yours to demand justice and fairness for the voiceless. I have no voice but yours to tell of the good news of God’s love for all people, a love proven by the crucified Christ. I have no ears but yours to hear the cry of the poor. I have no ears but yours to listen to the sins and sorrows of other people. In others words I have no one but you, from pew to Pope to complete my work on earth.
I heard a story of a church in a very run down section of Detroit. Over the door of the church were the words, “Welcome to the house of the Lord.” As one left the church these words were written over the exit, “Welcome to the Vineyard of the Lord.” In a way this is a variation of our weekly petition at the prayer of the faithful, “may we live this Mass outside these walls in the lives we live, the work we do, the service we give and the prayers we pray.”
During the Holy Year in 2000 we were asked to decorate one of the doors of the church as our Holy Door imitating the Holy Door of St. Peters in Rome, a door used by the pilgrims coming to Rome that year. That year we decorated the inside of one of our doors to indicate the dignity and the holiness of our world outside these doors.
What we do here at this Mass is most important. We represent the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross when he died loving each one of us with all our faults and failings. What we do when we leave this church is most important as we try to live out the commandment he gave us the night before he died, “Love on another as I have loved you.” What we do within these walls and what we do outside these walls cannot be separated one from the others.
Listen again to Paul’s prayer for the church of Ephesus, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That prayer could be the prayer we pray for ourselves as we try to live the full meaning of this feast of the Ascension, living this Mass outside these walls knowing that God’s work must truly be our own.