Ascension Sunday – Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 4:1-13; Mk 16:15-20
May 13, 2018 Lynne Smith, OSB
I find Ascension Sunday hard to get my head around. It is clear we can’t take the accounts of the ascension literally. The early Christian writers believed in a three-tiered universe. God was in heaven above; the people were in the middle on earth, and Satan was in the underworld below. We believe in an ever evolving universe fueled by and filled with divine energy.
There are Christians who express their belief in Jesus by casting out demons or handling snakes. We lay hands on the sick and some speak in tongues. I don’t know of Christians who demonstrate their faith by drinking poison. Though Benedict avoided harm by blessing a cup of poison causing it to break and spill out the tainted wine. These days we are more likely to show our faith by loving our neighbor, feeding the hungry, visiting prisoners and working for justice. So where do we find inspiration in these texts?
I will take the text from Acts as my starting point. When Jesus appears to his apostles following his suffering, he speaks to them about the reign of God (vs. 3). They are to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit and then “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (vs. 8) This is the outline for the book of Acts and has been understood as the church’s mission. Then Jesus disappears to sit at God’s right hand. This is a symbol for Jesus sharing in God’s power over the world, another symbol for the reign of God. And, in case we, like the apostles, misunderstand the point, two figures in white redirect our attention from the heavens back down to earth where, they say, we will find Jesus among us. The spread of the reign of God to all peoples throughout the earth is central to the meaning of this scene.
Standing on this side of the ascension, having been baptized by the Holy Spirit, we are now Jesus witnesses to the reign of God where we are. In our pluralistic world, I think this must mean finding another witness to God’s reign besides baptizing every last person in the name of Jesus or condemning those who resist.
The letter to the Ephesians offers us help here. The first half of today’s reading is striking when heard alongside Jesus’ call to be witnesses to the reign of God. “I plead with you, then… Treat all with 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. There is one body and one Spirit…one God and parent of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (vs. 1-6 excerpts)
Paul has the Christian community in mind here, of course. We still have a lot of work to do in this area to come to unity. In our divided world, broadening Paul’s image to the human community can guide the way we witness. Seeing the Christ and the good gifts in each person in our common effort to build up the whole human community can go a long way as a witness to the reign of God among us.
To inspire us in this call to unity and building up the whole human family, I want to share excerpts from “A Meditation for Peace” by Brother David Steindl-Rast, OSB which he offered at a gathering of diverse spiritual leaders on the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations. This was given on October 24, 1975, but is as relevant today as it was then. I invite you to enter into this meditation to find the source of unity within yourself and sense it among all people.
He uses the language of gestures to help the group express their unity and invites them to stand. Then he goes deeper into the metaphor of standing together.
“Sisters and Brothers in the Spirit:
Since we are truly one in heart, we ought to be able to find a common expression of the Spirit who moves us at this moment. But the diversity of our languages tends to divide us. Yet, where the language of words fails, the silent language of gestures helps to express our unity. Using this language then, let us rise and stand.
As we stand, then, like plants standing on a good plot of ground, let us sink our roots deep into our hidden unity. Allow yourself to feel what it means to stand and to extend your inner roots.
Rooted in the soil of the heart, let us expose ourselves to the wind of the Spirit, the one Spirit who moves all who let themselves be moved. Let us breathe deeply the breath of the one Spirit.
Let our standing be an expression of reverence for all those who before us have taken a stand for human unity.
“One is the human Spirit,” but the human Spirit is more than human, because the human heart is unfathomable. Into this depth let us silently sink our roots. There lies our only source of peace.”
Standing in the unity of the human family, we look for the Spirit to guide us in witness to the reign of God among us. Amen[Note: Here is the link to the full text of “A Meditation for Peace” by Brother David Steindl-Rast https://gratefulness.org/blog/united-nations-meditation-peace/]