Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Mass of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in Year C 2019 at The Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton
Readings: Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:17-23; Luke 24:46-53
2 June 2019
Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth
Dear friends in Christ,
The Ascension of Jesus into heaven does not make a lot of sense in our modern understanding of an ever-expanding universe. Science would tell us that there is no physical heaven anywhere in space and even if Jesus travelled at the speed of light, he would still be somewhere within the Milky Way.
Yet there is something powerful and profoundly transforming about this event on the part of the disciples. They could only describe it in the way they knew how, even if their description was couched in the language of the three-tiered universe and according to the ancient Jewish tradition.
Thus, in the Ascension, Jesus was taken up in glory just as Elijah the great prophet was carried off into the heavens by the chariot of fire. In this way, he was vindicated and glorified for his fidelity to God.
The ancient Hebrews understood God to dwell on the heights. He spoke to Moses for instance on Mount Sinai. The Psalms describe him as riding on the clouds in order to watch over the earth.
By ascending, Jesus was understood to reclaim his divine status. But it turns out that he ascended into the power of divinity not to be in a state of remoteness and indifference. Rather, like the Father-God who rides on the wind and the clouds, Jesus is now in a position to see, to care, to intervene, to heal, to forgive and to liberate. He is now in a position to enforce and ensure the reign of divine justice in the world.
So, far from being a disappearance and disassociation with the material and human reality, the Ascension situates Jesus in a new light. It is about him being with us in a new and more powerful way. The Ascended One is not bound any longer by the law of space and time. By ascending, he is able to be with us at all times and at all places. The disciples are challenged to reimagine their relationship with Jesus in a different way beyond his physical presence.
But more importantly, the Ascension marks the beginning of a new era. It is a launching of the community of witnesses. In other words, it is the moment of the launching of the Church. We, his disciples are challenged to take responsibility for our discipleship, which is to work for the new future inaugurated by Jesus. We are charged with the mandate: “Be my witnesses to the ends of the earth”.
It is a daunting task. But we are inspired by the example of the early Christian community. We are told that it was poorly resourced, few in numbers, marginalised by the dominant society and persecuted by the power that be.
Yet the fledgling Church was a powerhouse of prayer, love and solidarity. In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, they showed to the world what it was like to live with fraternal concern, compassion and communion. In the face of the ruthless imperial system, they formed an alternative society under God’s rule, a community of radical inclusivity, hospitality and justice.
The Ascension was a pivotal moment in the life of the early Church. It fortified their commitment to be the visible presence of Jesus. It launched them as a force to be reckoned with in the world, a force not to dominate but to serve, not to rule but to transform from within.
It made them realise that if the world had any chance of a new and better future, they would have to be the witnesses to Jesus, his ministry of healing, his outreach of compassion, his courage in standing with the marginalised and outcast, his audacity in overcoming entrenched attitudes of exclusion and his work for justice.
Brothers and sisters,
We live in uncertain and challenging times. We have a daunting task of rebuilding the Church’s reputation, credibility and most of all its moral stature in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis.
Now is the time for us to rebuild the Church not necessarily into a proud and powerful institution reminiscent of some bygone era. Rather, our task during this time of cleansing and purification is to become what we are meant to be: salt of the earth and light of the world. We may be returning to the earlier times in terms of being a marginalised or even persecuted minority. But if the example of the early Church was any guide, it could be a catalyst for greater commitment.
Let us not be afraid of embracing and enacting the new future inaugurated by Jesus. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream!
May what we celebrate today serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love.
Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time.