“Pántôn hôn érxato ho Iesoûs poieîn te kai didáskein, árchi hês heméras enteilámenos…”
That’s the Greek from the first line of today’s First Reading. It translates most literally as “all that Jesus began to do and teach from the start until the day [He was] taken up…” Our translation renders it “all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up”; however, this translation loses the clear implication of the Greek that this was something that had begunwith Jesus and was ongoing. Translations are like that – you lose something every time.
In light of our Solemnity today, I do believe that this subtlety is necessary – particularly for us disciples who are called to be missionaries. The Acts of the Apostles chronicles the new mission of the Eleven whom Jesus commissioned to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” This “new mission” is, in fact, not new – and St. Luke knows this. Therefore, he reminds Theophilus and us that what we are reading and now doing is part of the same mission that Jesus began, from the start until the day He was taken up.
The Ascension is an integral part of the mystery of Easter. When Jesus was raised from the dead, He was glorified. He is now fully and eternally present to the Father – and our humanity, which He assumed for us, is also taken up to the Father. His mission that encompassed His entire life, death, and resurrection is now our mission. There is no distinction between the saving action of Jesus and that of the Church – that of you and me. We are the Acts of the Apostles, today!
The source of the strength of the Apostles in their mission of living the Gospel and making new disciples was their unwavering knowledge that Jesus was in heaven and with them as they went. Mark tells us plainly in the Gospel today: “the Lord Jesus …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.”
Jesus began to do and teach, then He commissioned the Church to go and do the same, and He continues to do and teach in the world today. You and I are collaborators with Christ in this mission of making new disciples. This is our task as a Pastorate; this is the task of the Church. But lest we lose the sense of the personal nature of our call to be and make disciples, St. Paul reminds us that “grace was given to each one of us.” Therefore, you and I have a specific, personal duty to share Jesus with others.
After the resurrection, Jesus could have simply lived forever on earth and done everything Himself. Wouldn’t that be great? We wouldn’t need a pope, we wouldn’t need a pastor, we wouldn’t need missionaries. We could all just look to Jesus. Perhaps He’d have His own evening talk show. We’re used to listening to others to find out what our opinions should be; so why not have “Late Night with Jesus” or “Christ in the Morning” on CBS?
No. God loves us, and He calls us to share in His work; because it is through the sharing that we ourselves are truly transformed by that grace which is given to each one of us. Jesus has begun to work – He has not stopped – but you and I are invited to join in the mission of living the Gospel and making disciples. Without an awareness that we are accompanied by Jesus, our work can soon become tiresome; our desire to “sell out” and water down what we believe to fit the spirit of the times can take over and render our witness mundane and ignorable.
Instead, it is Jesus who gives life to our work as a Church. The Ascension is not the end of Christ’s mission; it is the beginning of our empowered mission with Him. To truly participate, we need to accept the commission to “preach the gospel to every creature,” beginning right here – with our families, our friends, our community. That is why we are here. That is what Jesus wants.