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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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We continue Jesus’ work of healing, loving and proclaiming the good news

We continue Jesus’ work of healing, loving and proclaiming the good news

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus continued to visit his followers after his Resurrection for about 40 days. Now 40 days does not mean exactly 40 days. It means “a long time.” It’s not a magical number. It’s used as a figure of speech to mean a long while.

Some examples: Noah was in the ark when it rained for 40 days and 40 nights. Jews were in the desert for 40 years. Elijah was escaping from Jezebel and walked 40 days and 40 nights to a safe cave. Jesus went into the desert before starting his public ministry for 40 days.

Some people have problems with Jesus’ Ascension because the story assumes a three-storied universe: 1) a solid dome of heaven above the earth; 2) the flat earth; 3) the waters of the deep and the underworld of the dead often called Hades or Hell.

We have to understand that the inspirited authors of scripture could only describe their reality as they understood the world to be.

They pictured the throne of God above the Superdome looking down on earth. Heaven was “up” above the great super dome in the sky. The sun, the moon, and the stars were fixed to the top of this dome. Since we do not view our universe in this way, we have to “translate” what they were trying to tell us.

Heaven is not so much a PLACE but another dimension. Heaven is being with God, seeing God face to face. We know that God is everywhere. When we get to heaven, we are not going to be confined to a place. We can discover God’s vast universe and talk to people whom we admired on earth.

So when did Jesus go to heaven? Remember what happened on Good Friday? The person we call the Good Thief was hanging on a cross next to Jesus. His prayer was, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” Jesus’ answer was, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

When Jesus died he went to heaven just like we would if we died in the state of grace.

What ultimately happened on the Mount of Olives on the day we call the Ascension? Jesus, after spending a long time with his disciples after his resurrection “speaking about the kingdom of God,” told his followers they would not see him again. When Jesus appeared with his incorruptible body, he strengthened and helped them put their lives together.

Before Jesus returned to the Father, he commissioned his followers to continue his work. Jesus told them that he was not going to leave them orphaned. He would send the Spirit to be with them and guide them how to pass on the Good News of God’s love for us.

I want you to imagine a relay race. The runners pass the baton from one to another. Jesus now passes the baton to us. We have to continue his work of healing, loving and proclaiming the good news of God’s love.

Although Jesus is not here in his physical body, he is still with us. He is present to us in the assembly gathered for worship, in his word that we proclaim, and in the least of his brothers and sisters. We must continue to make Christ present by our words and deeds.

We also need to remember Jesus when we are not at church. Many ways are available to us: prayer, spiritual reading, retreats, taking care of others, practicing gratitude, meditation on God’s word, and in small Christian communities or prayer groups. We have so many ways to keep Jesus alive in our day to day lives.

The church is the body called to behave as Jesus behaved – taking his love, his grace, and his mercy into our world. That’s the challenge of the Ascension.