DEACON JERRY FRANZEN Cathedral May 17, 2015
Acts 1: 1-11 Ephesians 4: 1-13 Mark 16:15-20
We just heard two accounts of the Ascension
one at the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostles,
and the other in the very last verses of St. Mark’s Gospel,
the beginning of one book and the end of another.
The Ascension certainly represents a pivotal point in Christianity.
After Jesus ascended in the account we heard from Acts,
two angels ask the disciples,
“Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”
We are not privileged like the disciples
to see Jesus’ ankles rising from the earth.
But, like the disciples in Acts, we also have an “upward” vision.
We know that heaven is not a place “up there;”
it is the state of our soul
in the eternal presence of our ever-loving God.
But we do have a definite focus on the “place” to which Jesus went.
We are used to praying that Jesus would come from that place”
down to us,
that he might be with us during a test or exam, during surgery,
as we drive to work, as we buy that lottery ticket.
Jesus has gone before us, and
we pray that he might come back to be with us.
We pray that Christ might come to be with us as we worship.
We have this “upward look”
and we call Christ “down” to be with us,
we ask for his blessing to come “down” upon us.
The feast of the Ascension reminds us to look “upward,”
toward that place to which Jesus went, heaven.
We, being here on earth, may have a tendency
to think of our being with Christ only here on earth.
Our hope, however,
is not only that Christ will return to dwell on earth.
Our hope is also that we will ultimately be with the Lord in heaven.
In the second coming, Christ will return to take us,
body and soul, to be with him.
This “upward” view, this reminding us of that “other place,” heaven, to which we must be aiming,
should stir our imagination and expand our capacities
to see, to feel and to hope.
It keeps fresh in our minds the ultimate purpose of life –
to get to heaven, to attain eternal salvation,
to be eternally in God’s presence.
Maintaining our “upward” perspective,
keeping this goal in view, is extremely important.
On clear days,
when mountain climbers can see
that breathtaking peak of snow-capped rocks,
when their goal is in clear view,
they make great progress.
They walk briskly, cooperate unselfishly; they climb as one,
all working toward the same summit.
On days when the summit is shrouded in clouds and out of view,
when the goal is not in clear sight
the climbing is tougher, eyes are downward,
thoughts are inward, tempers may be short.
Weariness is an uninvited companion.
The same is true of our spiritual journeys.
If the risen Christ, who calls us from the mountaintop,
is not clearly in view,
one can hear the groans of the travelers
as they stop on the spiritual trail.
Why continue if there is no goal in sight?
Without the clear vision of heaven
we become pilgrims without a promised land; we set up camp.
We trade our hiking boots for loafers
and our staffs and climbing equipment for new recliners.
We become spiritual couch potatoes.
We must keep that “upward” look,
keep eternal salvation as our clear and ultimate goal.
In St. Mark’s account there is no mention of disciples looking up.
Jesus just took his seat at the right hand of God, and
the disciples, “went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
Recall that in the Acts account,
the angels posed that question to the apostles:
"Why are you standing there looking up at the sky?”
because our focus on joining Jesus in heaven
must go well beyond our standing around and looking up.
There is another dimension.
There is also a “downward” perspective to the Ascension,
and we see this expressed in the Gospel account
and in today’s second reading.
The “downward” view directs us to our discipleship here on earth.
It is the means by which we will attain the everlasting life of heaven.
It is by our going forth and preaching everywhere,
by our working with the Lord,
by our bringing the signs of salvation to the world,
that we, too, will be lifted to the eternal kingdom.
What Jesus has accomplished must be brought to mankind.
Jesus has suffered, has died, has risen from the dead
and has ascended.
The Church’s extension of the mission of Jesus
began with his Ascension.
This is our work as the Church.
In that second reading from the letter to the Ephesians
St. Paul described how we as the Church can bring
the mission of Jesus to all.
He first calls for unity in the Church -
humility in remembering our own faults,
gentleness in our treatment of others,
patience with the actions of others,
willingness to bear with other’s faults,
and eagerness to preserve the peace
that is a gift of the Spirit.
These are the qualities that keep us together,
that lead to Church unity, to oneness in the life of Christ.
These are the kinds of behaviors
that are in accord with our Christian vocation.
Secondly, St. Paul reminds us of the diversity
of the kinds of gifts and the degree of gifts
that Christ gives to members of his Body.
He said to the Ephesians, and to us, that the Lord
“gave some as apostles, others as prophets,
others as evangelists, others as pastors
and (still others as) teachers.
to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry.”
We are those holy ones;
each of us has been equipped for the work of ministry,
to build up the Body of Christ.
This is all part of the “downward”
or earthly perspective of the Ascension.
The Son who came from heaven to earth,
has now returned to heaven
in order to exercise divine generosity
by giving these gifts to all humankind.
The Ascension is not just the historical event of the past.
It is not bon voyage to Jesus.
It is also not just about the future of our eternal salvation
or just about the second coming of Christ.
It has a downward earthly dimension, where we play a part.
Jesus ascended so that we could get on with his and our work,
the work of bringing ourselves back to him
and the work of bringing others to him.
So let’s get on with it.
Let’s be humble, be the person God meant you to be,
That could be as a member of the parish council,
a volunteer in the St. Vincent de Paul Society,
or maybe a greeter at the Rose Garden Mission.
Let’s be gentle in our words and in our actions,
as we deal with children, with the infirm, with the elderly.
Let’s be patient with those who may repeatedly annoy us.
Let’s be willing to extend God’s mercy
to even the most terrible sinner.
Let’s be eager to spread the Good News
that God loves us unconditionally.
For among us now are the apostles who administer the Church,
the prophets who bring special messages from God to us,
the evangelists who invite others to join us,
the pastors who care for the members of the flock,
and the teachers who pass on the teachings of our faith.
By our baptism, we are equipped for Christ’s ministry.
Christ has left the spotlight at the center of the earthly stage
on which he played out the redeeming events of his earthly life.
And He continues to influence,
from the timeless sanctuary of heaven,
the action of this drama which we call salvation.
With the gifts that He has given each of us,
with the power of the Holy Spirit working in each of us,
it is time for each of us to now step into that spotlight.