Today the Church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord. Of course this past Thursday was the 40th day after Easter, which is the day on which we have traditionally celebrated the feast, and all but a very few of the dioceses of the United States, along with most of the Church throughout the world, have moved that celebration to the Seventh Sunday of Easter. On Ascension Thursday, the Lord ascended back to the Father to reign forever as Christ the King over the whole universe.
The Ascension of the Lord always occurs in or around graduation time, and it seems to me to be very appropriate to think of the Ascension as the graduation ceremony of the Apostles. They have taken part in a three-year hands-on study of Jesus and of his teachings, and after the harrowing final exam, the Crucifixion (which they failed miserably), and then the surprise and undeserving pass of the Resurrection, they are now ready to make their way into the world without Jesus being physically present with them.
The twelve, and the other members of the early Christian community, had listened to the words of Jesus, conversed with him to discover the meaning of what he was teaching them, had seen him still the waves on the Sea of Galilee, feed the thousands with just a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, change water into wine, and heal those afflicted with diseases and unclean spirits. We want to remember that most of these were illiterate fishermen and other laborers, who were being entrusted with the most important message that the world had ever seen. Despite their weaknesses and shortcomings, Jesus believed that they were ready to take on this amazing mission.
In the Graduation Address, Jesus spoke the words that we know as the Great Commission: “Go, 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 carry out all that I have commanded you.” Here he gave the Church its mission, to bring the message of Christ to the world, and to bring the world to Christ.
Knowing that the disciples felt unsure of themselves as they began this mission, Jesus assured them that they would never be alone. His very last words, according to the Gospel of Matthew were, “And know that I am with you until the end of the age.” For some time, before and after the Passion and Resurrection, he had been teaching them about the Holy Spirit. He instructs them to wait until they received power from on high, before actually beginning their mission.
The Great Commission that Jesus gave to the Apostles is the same commission he gives to you and me today. We are to bring the message of Christ to the world and to bring the world to Christ. Like the Apostles, we probably feel intimidated by this responsibility. We should feel intimidated, because it is a task that is beyond us. But the same Holy Spirit that he promised to them has been given to us. Through that Holy Spirit, Jesus is with us even today.
—Fr. Mike Comer