June 1, 2003
(Acts 1:1-11; Mark 16:15-20)
There's a great story from L'Arche, the Christian movement which runs
home for people with mental and physical disabilities, about one beautiful
summer day, when the community took a group of Down's Syndrome children
to the beach, and everyone was happy and they were playing in the ocean
and drawing pictures in the sand, and one of the assistants said to one
of the Down's Syndrome children, "Draw me a picture of a house," and the
child drew a big picture of a house. She said to another child, "Draw
me a picture of a horse," and the child drew a great picture of a horse
in the sand. Finally, she said to a third child, "Draw me a picture of
joy." The child looked up at her, then looked all the way down the end
of the beach, then looked back at her, then looked all the way down the
other end of the beach, then looked back up at her and said, "There's
not enough room for joy!"
That's supposed to be the way we feel as we celebrate the resurrection
of Jesus. No matter what we're going through, no matter what our personal
problems, family issues, work problems, world crises, health situation,
suffering or facing our deaths, we rejoice because our Lord is risen and
we know we are headed toward resurrection. Deep down, we don't have enough
room for our joy.
So we read here in the Acts of the Apostles, that the disciples rejoiced
when Jesus appeared to them, they were full of joy, and Jesus talked again
about God's reign and told them to carry on with his work, and then all
of a sudden, he was lifted up into the clouds and disappeared into heaven
before their very eyes, leaving them speechless.
That's kind of where we are, standing speechless, looking up at the sky.
Jesus seems to have wanted to leave them not only so that he could go
to God, but so that he could send his Holy Spirit upon them and us and
we could live in his spirit and do the things he did and be like him.
So the angels appear to them and say, "Men of Galilee, why do you have
your head in the clouds? Get back there and get to work! Go back to the
Temple, the scene of the crime and do the things Jesus told you to do."
So I thought we could reflect on three things about the Ascension, what
Jesus told the disciples and us to do; the need for this work, and how
are we going to do it.
First, according to the Acts of the Apostles and this excerpt from the
end of Mark's Gospel, Jesus gave them specific instructions. I count nine
of them. They are to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit, be his witnesses
to the ends of the earth, proclaim the Gospel, believe in him, drive out
demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink deadly liquids, lay
hands on the sick and heal one another.
These are the things we are supposed to do too. We are to wait for the
coming of the Holy Spirit. Next week is Pentecost Sunday, so I invite
you to spend this week praying every day for the coming of the Holy Spirit
upon us and the world in new ways. Also, we are to be his witnesses to
the ends of the earth, and to proclaim the Gospel to one another and the
whole world. We can reflect on how well we are doing that. How well do
we proclaim the Gospel to one another and the whole world?
We're supposed to believe in Jesus, to drive out the demons of violence
and evil and death; to lay hands on the sick and heal them, and to pick
up serpents. (In Kentucky, the rural Baptist churches pass snakes around
during their services to fulfill this commandment of Jesus! I think it
means we are supposed to confront our fears and evil.) How well are we
doing these things?
Second, there has never been as great a need for people to do these things
The world is full of demons of violence, from New Mexico to everywhere,
with the thirty five wars, the poverty, the starvation, the greed, the
violence and nuclear weapons which threaten us all.
The world is full of sick people, like the 40 million people in Africa
who are dying from AIDS and HIV, who have no affordable medicine. I heard
recently that 7,000 children in South Africa every day from AIDS. 41 million
people here in the United States have no healthcare. This is unconscionable.
The world is full of witnesses, witnesses to power, money, selfishness,
and military might. Few people witness to love, compassion, mercy and
peace, as Jesus asked.
Third, there is much work to do. I think Jesus needs every one of us
to be more involved in his work, doing his mission. How are we going to
do? St. Ignatius Loyola put it this way. We need to ask ourselves: "What
have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What more can I do
Next week is Pentecost, so we need to ask God to send the Holy Spirit
upon us that we might live in the Spirit of Jesus more and more and do
the work he has for us.
I think the angels of ascension are trying to speak to us as well, and
saying to us, "People of America, get your head out of the clouds and
get to work for the Lord. Get your head out of the clouds and start proclaiming
the Gospel. Get your head out of the clouds and start driving out the
demons of violence, war and death. Get your head out of the clouds and
start healing one another, loving one another, serving one another and,
no matter what, keep on rejoicing.
Close this window.