This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 16:15–20:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
Today’s reflection will be brief, as I have visitors from out of town again this weekend and am enjoying playing tour guide immensely. At the moment, the house is quiet and I have a brief period in which to gather a few thoughts. Unfortunately, my guests will soon be on their way home, far too soon for us.
In a way, this reminds me of today’s readings from the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, which we celebrate today. Today’s readings are all about going on mission for Christ as a means to go home. Even before we get to our Gospel reading, we hear the beautiful narrative from Acts 1 about Christ’s journey home. He returned to His Father after His own journeys to save us from ourselves and our sin, having fulfilled the Lord’s mission to the world:
When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “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.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
Jesus finally went to his home in the Trinitarian life, seated at the right hand of God in Heaven. Ironically, that’s precisely the time that Jesus sent His apostles to leave their homes and go out into the world to spread His Word. And why did He send the apostles out of their homes and their comfort zones?
So they could go home, too — home to the Lord.
We were created to live in both spirit and flesh with the Lord, but our stubbornness in rebellion prevents us from cooperating in that plan. The entire arc of salvation is one long path after another that the Lord provides us as a way to overcome our sin and find our way back to Him. The story of Exodus is particularly apt in that regard. The Hebrews suffered 400 years of slavery in Egypt, got rescued by the Lord through Moses, and yet spent so much time rebelling and wishing to return to the apparent ease of slavery that God had them spend 40 years in a purgatory of wandering to strip them of their attachment to sin and rebellion.
The work of the Great Commission — the charge Jesus gave the apostles and all of their successors — is to lay out the way home to God. Spread the Word, teach people to repent of sin and love God, and find the way to meet Him halfway back to home, where His grace can see us the rest of the way. Jesus calls to us to come home to eternal life rather than death and damnation because Heaven is our true home. We were created to live in both spirit and flesh with the Lord, but our stubbornness in rebellion prevents us from cooperating in that plan.
The 1981 film The Chosen, from the novel of the same name, tells a wonderful story in its final lines from the Talmud. I’ve never heard anything that evokes the longing of the Lord for His people quite as directly:
There is a story in the Talmud about a king who had a son who went astray. The son was told, ‘Return to your father.’ The son replied that he could not. The king then sent a messenger to the son with the message… ‘Come back to me as far as you can, and I will meet you the rest of the way.
That was Christ’s mission — to meet us as far as we could get, and to bring us the rest of the way home. Spreading that Good News is now our mission, so that we can all go home rather than remain stuck on the journey for eternity.
May your Memorial Day weekend be blessed with fellowship and reflection, too.
The front-page image is a detail from “Ascension of Christ” by Pietro della Vecchia, 1626. On display at San Teonisto church, Treviso. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.
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