Seventh Sunday of Easter: The Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

The early Church was forced to trust God’s care for it, and many circumstances force us to trust God and the Spirit’s work more within the Church and the world.

May 16, 2021

Acts 1:15-17, 20a,20c-26
Psalm 103:1-2, 11-12, 19-20
1John 4:11-16
John 17:11b-19.

We have celebrated the Ascension of the Lord, but we pray with the confidence that Jesus remains with us until the End of time. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the “de-scension” of the Holy Spirit, but this Sunday, we celebrate our belief in God’s fidelity toward us.

The early Church was forced to trust God’s care for it, and many circumstances force us to trust God and the Spirit’s work more within the Church and the world. We pray to take our tensions, worries, wonderings, frustrations and losses to our daily prayer and the memorial of His death and Resurrection in this liturgy.

What we hear in the First Reading for this Sunday are verses that follow immediately after the account of the Lord’s Ascension and the return of the “eleven” to Jerusalem. They go back to the “upper room”, where they find Mary and Jesus’ cousins.

What we hear takes place sometime later. Twelve was the original band of the apostles, and because of Judas’ having hanged himself, they needed a replacement. We listen to a God-guided election of the one who would replace Judas who had turned away.

What is important here is the reliance on God’s personal care for the Church, small though it was. They prayed as a group and did what was humanly appropriate. They flipped a coin or handed out sticks, and one got either the long or short end. Matthias was, no, not the winner, but the elected for the service of witnessing to the Resurrection of the Lord.

We hear in the Gospel, from the last chapter of Jesus’ Last Discourse to His faithful “eleven”. Seven times in eight verses, Jesus uses the word “world”. As we have seen in other passages from John’s Gospel, things such as water, light, vine, the temple itself are used for more than they are. Jesus uses this word in a double-meaning way.

The “world” is definitely a place to which He has been sent and into which the Apostles are to go. Jesus has spoken to them and is speaking to them while still physically with them in the “world”. The “world” is also a spirit or gravity-like pull which will move toward hatred of them and their work. This spirit of darkness has prevented some from seeing and believing in Him as the One sent.

The Apostles no longer belong to the “world” in this darkness sense, but belong as a gift from the Father in the Son to bring about the fullness of creation in Christ.

The Apostles are not to be redrawn from the tension between light and dark. Jesus was sent onto the globe and into conflict with the spirit of this “world”, so is the Church.

There was a time when the Church kept its skirts free from the dust in the road. Holiness was up on the mountain or out in the desert. Politics and the social fabric of life were the unholy side of the seculum (secular). “Fuga Mundi” was the phrase for “fleeing the world”, and those who went about in the world were diminished and made less human by their encounters. This fleeing is somewhat attractive. “Me and Jesus” make a great pair. I could spend a long time working on my spiritual advancement and perfection. This is attractive as well. It is safer, less available to criticism and “hatred”, except by myself.

The only problem is that Jesus has been sent and is still being sent into this “polis” or “mundi” or society of human beings who are His sisters and brothers, whether they like it or know it or not. This “world-spirit” is within each of us and will hate us too if we move against it. This “spirit” would move the early church and now us, the later church, to remove our protests, our “truths”, our witnessings, and our voices from the societies and conflicts it wishes to resolve by darkness. The Church was enjoyed by all as long as it stayed up there, out there. These days it is experiencing the “hatred” Jesus predicted.

After the Ascension, the Apostles gathered together but soon had to begin getting down and dirty and was disliked to the point of imprisonment and execution. Witnesses, “martyrs” have testified through the years that the Church must be doing something good by provoking the dark spirit of the “world”. In the history of the United States, the Church did not speak out strongly enough against the institution of slavery, and so it wasn’t attacked. When the Christian churches began to speak out boldly, churches were bombed, burned and this continues in our times, in this country.

In Central America, the Church began relating the teachings of Jesus to the conflicts between the rich and the landless poor. More martyrs grace our history because the “world” hated them as they hated Jesus.

There are political and social issues to which the Church is speaking, and the spirit of the “world” is moving to silence its voice. It is trying to convince us that the Church doesn’t belong in the “world”; doesn’t have the proper values of the “world”. We, each, will hear these voices within ourselves and say, “ah, leave it to the politicians.” Yes, this is partly true, but they need our voices as well. There is no more fleeing the “world”. We are encouraged to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” 

“My heart has prompted me to seek Your face; I seek it, Lord, do not hide from me.” Ps. 27 ––By Fr Larry Gillick, S.J. 

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