Jesus’ Last Words (Ascension, Year A)
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This year, the feast of the Lord’s Ascension speaks to me in a very personal way. Today Jesus is leaving the people he loves, the ones he has cared for, and spent every day with. He is leaving for something even greater, the next stage, a new chapter. Today, Jesus rejoins his Father in heaven and paves the way for the Holy Spirit to come down and abide with his believers forever. Something similar happens for the priest as he prepares for a new assignment, saying goodbye to people he has been with for years. One significant difference: I do not anticipate being taken up into the clouds as I make my way to Incarnate Word Parish!
As Jesus ascends into heaven, he gives us a parting gift: He gives us his final words.
We normally take very seriously the last words our loved ones uttered to us;
– we turn those words over in our minds,
– we consider them carefully
– we store them up in our hearts and ponder them – much as Mary stored up the words of the angel, the shepherds, and the magi in her heart after her encounters with them.
If the last words of a loved one to us are uttered in the form of a command or wish, if they are uttered with any seriousness – in the knowledge that soon time and space will separate us, if they ask us to do something, we are inclined to do everything in our power to both remember those words and to do that which was asked of us.
Last words are indeed important words. Knowing that – today I want to reflect with you on the last words of Jesus while he was here on earth.
If you ask most people what the last words of Jesus were, chances are they might tell you that his last words were: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” — or perhaps – “Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit”. When most people think of the last words that Jesus spoke here on earth we tend to think of those words that he spoke upon the cross – those words he spoke just before his death – and not of the words that he spoke to his disciples, and to all of the Church, after his resurrection, on the day he ascended into heaven.
The last words that Jesus uttered while still on earth, while still walking about in his resurrected body, were just read to us in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. As he prepared to join his Father in heaven, Jesus tell the Apostles and us: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
But what does it mean to be his witnesses? The answer to that question can be found in today’s gospel from Matthew. Christ says quite simply, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” During this indefinite time between his ascension and his return in glory, Jesus wants the apostles to make the church grow, to spread the Good News of his victory over death, and to witness to his resurrection. He promised great signs and divine protection to those who follow his command.
But Christ’s command to the apostles didn’t stop there; as a matter of fact, his mandate to “Go and make disciples of all nations” extends to you and me as well. Even though Christ has ascended into heaven, even though we are waiting for his return at any moment of every day, we are expected to evangelize and give witness to all we have received through the gift of our faith. All of us have received the gift of the Holy Spirit by virtue of our Baptism and those of us who have been confirmed have also received the graces of Pentecost within our souls.
The Ascension reminds us that it is time to spread the gospel, whether we are a priest or parent, a teacher or laborer, professional or full-time student. This is our task in this time of waiting for Christ’s second coming; we are not just supposed to sit around idly, hoping that we are ready when Jesus returns.
I point out this command to spread the Good News because far too often people think it is something reserved for deacons, priests, bishops, and these who have consecrated their lives completely to Christ. And while it is my full-time job to spread the gospel, it is yours as well. I believe that one of the reasons that people still do not know Christ, the reason that so many people do not live the gospel is because ordinary Christians do not realize the power of their witness and their ability to spread the saving message of Our Lord. In a special way, in a way that I cannot be, you are the apostles to the corporate world, the educational world, the retail world, the entertainment world, and so on. This is the beauty of the Christian vocation; all of you, through your everyday work, have the privilege and opportunity to be made holy and to bring others to Christ. The Ascension of our Lord compels and commands us to use this time, before he returns, as an opportunity to bring others to the Lord. It is not enough simply to take care of ourselves.
As we celebrate the Ascension , let us pay close attention to these last words of Christ. First, let us thank God for the gift of our faith, which was given to us by those following the Lord’s command to share the Good News. Second, let us resolve to spread our own faith to those we encounter in our lives by the joyful and peaceful ways we carry ourselves. Finally, let us recommit ourselves to the practice of personal prayer, that our witness to the gospel will not be mere words or empty showmanship but a genuine and passionate display of the life of the Holy Spirit. In this way, we will honor Christ by making disciples of all nations.
Categories: ARCHIVE Fr. Kevin Schroeder