In our Archdiocese, the Feast of the Ascension is transferred to the Seventh Sunday in Easter. The transferring of the Feast has the advantage that it helps to convey one of the points we have tried to make: the Resurrection is a process, a journey. We now have the opportunity to reflect about the last two steps of the journey on the last two Sundays of Easter: the Feast of the Ascension, and the Feast of Pentecost.
During the last week, the gospels had Jesus telling his disciples one message: He leaves them, in order that they can continue the mission. Before he leaves, Jesus promises them his constant presence—a non-physical one—the Holy Spirit, a promise of which we are still partakers today. However, Jesus did not leave because the disciples were ready to continue the mission. Rather, the opposite is true: both Acts and the Gospel this Sunday show (we have said that before) that the initial community of disciples struggled mightily before they understood Jesus’ identity and mission.
Even at the time of his final farewell—after all the teaching, all the miracles, the Passion, the Cross, and the Resurrection—the disciples are still questioning Jesus about the restoration of Israel. They still hold fast to understanding Jesus as a political Messiah who was to free Israel. The gospel conveys also that something is wrong when Matthew indicates that the disciples “saw him, they worshipped him, but they doubted” him.
Despite their unpreparedness, Jesus in the gospel gives them what we have come to call the great commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” And in Acts, the two men in white garments tell the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”
We, too, struggle to understand Jesus’ identity and mission. We struggle to understand what the Resurrection means, how it is a mission, and what it asks us to become. To become a community of the Resurrection is to do what the ‘men in white’ and Jesus tell the disciples (whether they were ready to hear it or not, just like us):
Go! The same message the women had received at the Tomb at the Resurrection. A community of the Resurrection is a community that does not “stand” but “goes out.” Jesus is telling his disciples—and he is telling us today—to move, to go out, not to stand in simple contemplation.
Not (only) looking at the sky: A community of the Resurrection is not one that “looks intently at the sky” only living the “spiritual” aspects of faith, but one that looks down to earth, where people are suffering and in need of the Good News. It would be so easy to live faith without what faith demands of us in service towards others, especially those most in need.
Call to make disciples of all nations: the greatest good news is that, through his leaving us, Jesus makes us responsible for the continuation of his mission. Making disciples of all nations means for us that we are called to make disciples everywhere, of every race, gender, economic status, ideology, sexual orientation, in any walk of life.
Ours is not an easy mission. We need help. Thus, Jesus promises us today that the help will be the coming of the Holy Spirit. The actualization of that constant promise is what we celebrate at Pentecost—not only a historical event, but a constant presence that we need to learn to discern today.