There was a poem written in the fourteenth century about a rat infested little town in Germany. The local officials employed a traveling rat catcher to take care of the problem, and that he did. He played his “pipes” and led the rats to a river where they all drowned. The officials refused to pay him, so he again played his “pipes” and all the children came out into the street and followed him to a nearby hill, and in the words of the poem, “as they reached the mountainside, a wondrous portal opened wide, and the piper advanced and the children followed and were never seen again”. Robert Browning wrote that poem about the Pied Piper, and it is sinister and sad.
As Christians, today we celebrate a different kind of piper, who plays to us a different tune, a tune that leads us home. Over the past six weeks since the Resurrection we’ve heard stories that help us to realize that we all have a home to return. We know that we are not slaves because we have been given direct information concerning our relationship with Jesus. We have been pruned on a good vine because Jesus told us. Good information that helps us to grow and not wither on a vine of our faith journey. We know that Jesus knows us and calls us by name, and that each one of us is important. We know that our faith journey may involve some confusion, but we have received the promise from Jesus that he will always be there with us. Finally, we may doubt about Jesus in our lives, but we have his promise that he will not give up.
“And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them was taken up to heaven”. If that was all, it would seem like a final separation. The focus on this passage in on Jesus’ commissioning his disciples, along with instructions defining their mission, which is to proclaim the Gospel to everyone, and leaving the choice up to them as to whether they believe and are baptized or not. Jesus’ leaving their presence was not over shadowed with sorrow, but filled with joy. Between his Resurrection and Ascension, one truth had been instilled in the disciples. Jesus was truly born, truly suffered, truly died and truly risen. We are no longer on a downward spiral. On the contrary, Jesus is leading us home to a deep happiness with our Father. When Jesus came to earth at Christmas, he came alone. Now as he ascends into heaven, he leaves the door open behind him, so to speak, so that a mighty army of disciples can follow.
That’s the Good News in today’s Gospel. We are all going to go through a transition at our death. We will not just disappear. We will begin to live with new intensity. We live in a pessimistic world, which suspects peoples motives when they are trying to do good. It loves to bring people down. Pope Francis gives us some help to wipe away this pessimistic attitude, when he stated that the Gospel message brings joy and that often we spread that joy not just by words, but by our actions. You might ask, what can I do about the homeless or those living in poverty? Even if your response is no more than a little bit, that little bit done with a smile has a contagious effect. Pope Francis invites us to be Missionary Disciples. This does not mean we have to leave our families, jobs, and take to the open road. We can set the tone for others to feel good about themselves. When that happens we will react and be able to accomplish what we set out to do.
This weekend, I attended the ordination of eight new permanent deacons at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. Archbishop Lori told those men that they were following as deacons because they had heard God's call and had been prepared to answer that call in the midst of their families and faith communities. Last weekend, we were blessed to commission thirteen new altar servers here in our parishes. These young people were able to answer the call to serve because of the faith of their families and the support of our parish community. We are all prepared for our mission by our community.
With Jesus enthroned in heaven, the disciples went forth and Jesus was with them, confirming their word through many signs. Such is our mission, always assured that Jesus is with us in all our witnessing. Pope Francis invites us to peer for a moment into the heart of St. Paul to see what his prayer is like. It was full of people.