Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
Meditation for the Ascension of the Lord
“All is yours: dispose of it entirely according to your will.” – Ignatius of Loyola
The accounts of Easter, those that describe the events immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, often speak of disappointment as in the case of the disciples of Emmaus, of fear as in the case of the women that ran from the tomb without saying anything, and of closed doors like those of the Upper Room behind which the disciples have closed themselves.
Thus the risk of remaining disappointed, afraid and closed up has always laid in wait for Jesus’ disciples, especially in times when we are unable to fully understand what is happening, when our expectations are shattered, or when we find ourselves overshadowed by events that seem much larger than us.
For this reason, I’m not surprised that Jesus’ actions after his resurrection all seek to put the lives of his disciples back into motion that were in danger of remaining stuck under the weight of incomprehension. In order to move forward, one must reconsider the past and then let it go.
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven is a necessary farewell that helps the disciples reinitiate their mission. It’s no accident that this event is not only the end of the Gospel, but also the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. It is a renewing event because it allows the disciples to take account of everything that has happened and move forward.
Sometimes we too are incapable of moving forward in life because we are stuck on something we can’t get over. There is always the risk that we will fixate on something and be unable to turn the page, as sometimes happens in an old book when the pages are not cut properly.
This passage is filled with verbs that describe movement; first Jesus invites his disciples to go out. And at the end the disciples show that they have accepted Jesus’ invitation because they went forth and preached. A change has taken place in their lives and they are set in motion again.
In order to start again, first one must recognize that things have changed. Sometimes this can be the hardest part: things never remain the same forever. Every so often there are changes in life that we must accept and enter into. But there is always a promise that goes along with every change: in fact, the Gospel text tells us that even after the Ascension, when the disciples thought they would have to face the world alone, the Lord worked with them. The situation was different, it’s true, but Jesus never abandons them!
This communion with Jesus is expressed in concrete signs that speak to the difficulty of the mission: Jesus sends the disciples into the world, but he does not hide the struggles they will face. And even so, if they remain in communion with the Lord they will be able to cast out demons, despite all temptations, threats, and attempts to divide that those demons conjure up. They will be able to speak new languages, to communicate where it seems impossible, to enter into previously unknown contexts, to live amidst cultures that seem entirely foreign. They will be able to pick up serpents with their hands, to cope with malice and cunning, to remain unscathed by the venom that the enemy would seek to inject into their lives and communities. They will be able to heal the sick, to bring consolation to those in need, to heal the wounds of a world torn apart by hatred and egoism.
Like the rain and the snow, such is the Son who has come from the heavens and has made humanity bear fruit through his Word. Now he returns from where he came because this is the movement of every true gift that comes from the Father. And Jesus is the gift par excellence, the mercy that fills our lives. Like every gift, such is Jesus: he can’t be held back. As we watch Jesus as he returns to the Father, we are invited to rethink the entire movement of our lives: welcoming all that comes from the Father and living with that willingness to let it go again, because nothing ever truly belongs to us.
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