(Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 7:30am, 11:00am, 12:30pm)
1 June 2014
(Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ps 46; Eph 1:17-23; Mt 28:16-20)
When the Son of God, the eternal Word of the Father, took flesh and came among us as Jesus of Nazareth, one of the reasons for this was so that we would be able to know God the Father. Jesus said to Saint Phillip: to have seen me is to have seen the Father. And so Jesus was a living, breathing, talking, walking icon of what God the Father is like (1). His human presence with us was to help us to reach the Father, to come back to Him, and to stay with Him forever.
This presence with us didn’t end with his crucifixion. After his death, Jesus rose again and continued to be with his followers: teaching and instructing them; helping them to understand what God had done and still wanted to do.
And then we come to the mystery that the Church celebrates today: the Ascension of the Lord, when that physical presence of Jesus departs. No longer would his disciples see him with their eyes as they had, or hear his voice in the same way; no longer would they have that time with him to watch him interact with others, to heal and forgive, to preach the kingdom of God.
We could well ask: why didn’t Jesus just stay behind as he was? Just think: if he hadn’t ascended into heaven and was still in the world in the same way, he could have had Facebook and Twitter; he could upload the latest videos of himself to YouTube; we could even Skype him! And yet, God, who could foresee all these eventualities, had a different plan.
When the physical presence of Jesus ascends to heaven – as difficult as that is for us to comprehend – we are given a glimpse of our destiny. We, with our physical, human existence, are destined for life with God in heaven … and Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, that man with the same physical and human existence as us – has already gone there. That’s a message of hope – because where he has gone, we hope to follow. And while our mortal minds, trying to grapple with space and time, have difficulty comprehending this, it is a mystery, nonetheless, that gives us hope.
Another important aspect of this mystery of the Ascension is contained in Jesus words to his disciples before he goes. As he prepares to leave them he says, “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.” It seems like a contradiction: his farewell words before going are “I am with you always.” What this means is that his presence with them changes from that physical, visible presence, and passes over into the sacraments. It’s in the sacraments that Christ is with us until the end of time. He who once gave his body and blood at that Supper table on the night before he died for us, now continues – until the end of time – to give his body and blood to us at the Eucharistic supper table, the altar of sacrifice. The sacraments transcend time and space, and so when the young people come today to the altar to receive Holy Communion for the first time, its exactly the same as when Christ’s apostles received his Body and Blood from his hands at the table of the Last Supper. The eucharist, above all, is the sign we have that Jesus is with us until the end of time, as he said he would be.
Another thing the mystery of the Ascension shows us is the importance of the Church which Christ instituted, because at his ascension he gives a command to those disciples present: Go, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. We have in that sentence the whole reason the Church exists; and we have in it the mandate Christ gave to his Church: to make disciples, to baptize, to teach people to observe all the commands he gave us: and this is what the Church continues to do, 2000 years later … to teach the people of today to observe all that Christ taught us: not just bits of it, but all of it: the fullness of the truth.
This weekend, as the young people of our parish who were Confirmed last week make their first Communion, they are now – sacramentally – full members of the Church. They share fully – with us – that mandate that Christ gave to the first members of the Church … to make disciples of all the nations, to baptize, and to teach all the commands he gave us.
Now, whilst their sacramental initiation is complete, it’s quite obvious that their Christian formation is not yet complete (and in fact it never is, for any of us). And just as the parents of the children completing their initation this weekend aren’t going to remove their children from school on Monday morning, but rather see that they have another ten years of education, so too the children’s Christian formation must continue: by fidelity to the command to keep Sunday holy with participation in Mass; by daily prayer; by attentive listening to the Sacred Scriptures, both in the liturgy and in personal reflection; by celebration of the sacraments, especially frequent Confession; by learning the teachings of Christ as handed down through the ages by the Church; and by actively putting into practice the way of living that Jesus gave us, to avoid sin and to practice virtue.
This formation of the young people of our parish is the job – not just of their parents, who have the first and primary job of doing it – but of all of us. And we do that through our encouragement, and above all by our own example of faithfully trying to live the Christian faith as we know God wants us to.
And so, we gather on this day to celebrate the mysteries of our faith because those first disciples were faithful to the Lord’s command: they went to the ends of the earth, baptizing, making disciples, teaching others to observe everything that the Lord had taught … and then, in turn, Christians throughout the past 2000 years have also been faithful to Christ’s command, and so we have received this same inheritance of faith. May we, in our turn, be faithful to Christ. May we, in our day, observe all that the Lord has commanded and teach others to do the same, so that all people will come to know and love God, and to live in communion with Him.
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