Message: Jesus does not give heaven on earth; he gives a mission.
On this seventh Sunday of Easter we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus: God mounts his throne to shouts of joy, a blare of trumpets for the Lord.
How does Jesus' Ascension tie with our theme - Life in Christ? How does Jesus' going away help us?
Before I say what Jesus' Ascension does for us, I'd like to clarify what it does not do. In the first reading we hear the disciples ask Jesus, "Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" The early disciples are like us. They want the kingdom now. They want heaven one earth.
I remember a conversation with a bright young woman. I asked her about her dreams. She said what she was most looking forward to was retiring! For sure, she was not thinking about retirement as the elderly experience it: a few years of increasing physical ailments and loneliness. Rather she was imagining a state of ongoing rest and satisfaction, a perpetual Caribbean cruise. What she longed for was not retirement, but heaven. So do we all.
The great scientist philosopher Blaise Pascal said: "Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future." We are constantly arranging our lives for some moment in the future when we will really be happy.
Now, Jesus does want us to be happy, but he does not offer heaven on earth. He is not like some politician who says, "vote for me everything will work out right."
One hundred years ago a small group of men in Russia told people that if they gained power they would literally bring heaven on earth: Peace! Bread! Land! they promised. One hundred years later we know they did not bring heaven on earth. They brought the worst hell in human history. If you think some political system can bring heaven on earth, read The Gulag Archipelago.
Jesus did not bring heaven on earth. What then did he bring? We see it in today's Gospel. Ascending to heaven, Jesus gives the disciples a mission: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."
This is Jesus' mission statement. We took it up ourselves when we spent 18 months discerning God's plan for our parish. Here's our mission: "Blessed to live in this beautiful valley, we are Christians, in union with Pope Francis and Archbishop Sartain, who strive to lift up Jesus, love one another and make disciples."
When we say "lift up Jesus" we of course recognize that the Father raises Jesus to the right hand. And we know Jesus himself is God - consubstantial with the Father. So in saying "lift up Jesus" we refer to something humbler: what we do at Mass. When the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus - by the power of the Holy Spirit - the priest, who represents the people, literally lifts up Jesus. We do that so Jesus will lift us up.
We need Jesus to lift us up. We become bogged down, depressed, confused, even paralyzed. When you fall on your face, when darkness overcomes you, lift up Jesus. Take a small cross or your rosary or your Bible. Jesus will lift you up - and give you a mission.
It's interesting that after Jesus ascends he dispatches two men with a message. The two men may be Moses and Elijah who appeared next to Jesus at the Transfiguration - or perhaps the two men dressed in white garments refer to angels. If you are curious about questions like these, come to my Bible study on Monday evening.
For now we focus not on who the two men are but on what they say: Stop looking up to heaven; you have a mission right here. Focus on what is right in front of you, on what God wants you to do today. Leave tomorrow in God's hand. Say, "Jesus, I trust in you."
We've seen the misery men bring when they seek heaven on earth but we've also seen the blessings that come when disciples embrace Jesus' mission. St Teresa of Calcutta focused on lifting up Jesus and she did much to directly alleviate human suffering.
We can each make the world a little better, but we cannot do it on our own. We need a source of power. More about that next week. I only ask this: wear something red. Red represents fire. Jesus wants to give us fire. That's next weekend.
Today remember this: Jesus does not give us heaven on earth; he gives us a mission. Amen.
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Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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