Solemnity of the Ascension
Gospel Reading: Mark 16: 14a, 15-20
14a ]esus showed himself to the Eleven
15 and said to them, 'Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation.
16 He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.
17 These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues;
18 they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.'
19 And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven: there at the right hand of God he took his place,
20 while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.
At the beginning of today's passage we are reminded that these words were once spoken by Jesus himself to some disciples who were facing a difficult time.
They felt very dis-organised and lost; here now was Jesus standing before them and giving them a way to go forward. He continues to do this for us today through different 'messengers' whom God sends to us. We must be aware of them and thank God for them.
Jesus makes a first crucial statement to his followers: they are to 'go out into the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation'. We think today of many parts of creation where the gospel of Jesus has not yet been preached.
We think of signs in the modern world which we can associate with true believers:
- 'In my name they will cast out devils.' Many people in our modern world think that no one cares for them, not even God. True believers, however, speak in words which convey that gifts like true selflessness can bring help for all.
- 'They will have the gift of tongues.' There are people in the world today who cannot speak in new languages; they use words that cannot touch unyielding hearts. True believers however will be able to communicate their message of love to all they meet, no matter what their original circumstances were.
- There are people who can act out their role as evangelisers, even in what seems to the rest of us as very difficult circum-stances. They venture into difficult worlds. They work in difficult surroundings, among prostitutes, drug addicts and other outcasts of society. They can 'pick up snakes in their hands and be untouched by them'. We can say about them that, 'they will remain unharmed even when they drink deadly poison.'
- Finally, Jesus tells us that 'true believers' can 'lay their hands on the sick who will recover.' There are people who can lay their hands on those who are sick and see them recover before their very eyes. It is truly a wonderful experience of God's salvation and 'true believers' can feel it happening.
The passage concludes with a beautiful saying about the Lord Jesus. It is said of him that 'he was taken up to heaven' and that 'at the right hand of God, he took his place.'
We who believe can now think of the Lord Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. We are in this world surrounded by all our difficulties and yet we feel great trust in the Lord.
'They, going out, preached everywhere' and the 'Lord is working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.' As believers, we know well that the Lord is with us. He is confirming what we say by the signs he has sent to accompany us, and the great miracles he achieves through us.
'In the church's history, missionary drive has always been a sign of vitality, just as its lessening is a sign of a crisis of faith.'
John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio, 1991
Lord, there comes a time in life when we know that what we believe in is good news for the whole of creation.
We feel like the apostles when they met Jesus after his resurrection.
It is strange, but the conviction always seems to come after we have experienced a setback - some of our members may have deserted us as Judas deserted Jesus.
Yet we know we must go out to the whole world.
Our cause is with you, as safe as Jesus taken up to heaven and taking his place at your right hand, so that we can go out, preaching everywhere, our words confirmed by the signs which accompany them.
Lord, there are certain signs that are the mark of true believers.
Demons have been causing havoc in our community and no one has been able to confront them - a person of faith will cast them out in one moment.
Believers can express an old message in a totally new way, so that people who have been listening to that message for years will suddenly become convinced.
The rest of us are afraid of going to some places for fear we might be corrupted: believers do it and remain totally unharmed.
They can enter into discussion with enemies of the faith and remain calm and loving.
They go to someone whom the community has written off as a hopeless case
and at the touch of their hands this person returns to normal living.
Lord, we thank you for believers.
'Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who hates his life in this
world will keep it for the eternal life.'
Lord, it is clearly a law of life that we must eventually commit ourselves
- to marriage,
- to a noble cause,
- to the following of Jesus.
We must take the risk.
If we hold back, afraid of this baptism, we are condemned to lives of mediocrity.
To go forward in faith is the only way to be saved.
On the day that the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea so miraculously, God was surrounded by angels who sang and danced. They noticed that God was crying. 'Are you not glad?' they asked. 'How can I rejoice?' God asked, 'My children are also drowning.'
Jewish legend quoted by Rabbi Hugo Gryn at a vigil for the Gulf War, London 1991
Lord, forgive us for setting limits to your love.
Remind us that the good news you revealed to us is to be proclaimed to all creation.
Lord, so often as a church we give people the idea that following Jesus can be done with minor adjustments to their lifestyle.
Help us to teach plainly, like Jesus, that being disciples means taking enormous risks of being drowned, but unless we are baptised in him, he cannot save us.
'This is the end of the Chinese people's adolescence, and their initiation into political maturity. They are no longer waiting to be liberated; they are now ready to pay the price to liberate themselves.'
Liu Binyan, dissident Chinese journalist
Lord, we thank you for people and cultures who have been through crucifixion experiences and have emerged with their faith and their courage intact.
We pray that like the apostles at the ascension of Jesus they may now go out into the whole world and announce with confidence the good news that the human spirit cannot be enclosed in a tomb and will always rise again.