“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. This is the concluding sentence of the Gospel of Matthew. These are the last words the Risen Jesus speaks to his disciples on this earth. So, they are extremely important.
The key message of the feast of the Ascension is that, although Jesus “was taken up to heaven”, he has neither left us nor abandoned us. In fact, the opposite is true: he is not far away. He is always with us and is active in our lives. What this feast really celebrates is that Jesus has come more deeply into our world and will remain involved in the lives of human beings until the end of time.
What are the signs of the ongoing presence of the Risen Jesus among us? I would like to review 3 ways in which we can experience that Jesus is always with us and at work in our lives. All 3 of these ways are hinted at in today’s Gospel passage.
The 1st way is summarized by these words: “and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”. Jesus is always with us through his words. What is the Word of God? Sacred Scripture is the Word of God. As Vatican II teaches, although you heard Chad’s voice and my voice with your ears, it is God himself who is speaking to our hearts, minds and souls whenever the words of Sacred Scripture are read.
Furthermore, Scripture is referred to as the living Word of God because the Bible’s words are addressed to us as much as to the people for whom they were written. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is continually speaking to us now, today, as he once spoke with the 11 disciples on the mountain top. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”.
But this communication is not one sided. The intent of Sacred Scripture is to foster a genuine dialogue between God and his people here and now. This talking with and listening to God “forms” and “shapes” us and creates a closer union with God. Ultimately, the pages of Sacred Scripture give us more than just words. The sacred text is the key which enables a loving relationship with the Lord to develop and to grow in the core of our being.
The second way Jesus always stays with us is summarized by these words from the Gospel: “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Baptism, like all the other sacraments, is an encounter with the Risen Christ. The great theologian, Gregory of Nazianzen, wrote: “Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift”.
Why? Jesus loves us so much that he holds nothing back. He gives us everything, including a share in his own divine life. A mystical writer from the 5th century claimed that God’s love is so tremendous, that God is like a sober drunk, falling over himself in the desire to share divine life. As a result of our Baptism, God’s own divine life dwells inside us.
The sacrament of Baptism is not just a ceremony, a ritual; it is an actual event in which God literally and truly comes to us. This divine indwelling is never withdrawn. God is in us; we are in God. This grace is permanent. That’s the reason for which Baptism is only administered once in a person’s lifetime. Today’s liturgy invites us to ask ourselves these questions: Do I allow myself to be guided by the God who lives in me? Do I allow God who dwells inside me to play a role in my life?
The 3rd way Jesus is always with us is summarized by the words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations”. Jesus is present in our world through you and me.
Through the help of the Holy Spirit, our mission is to continue Jesus’ mission. In fact, Jesus depends on us to continue his ministry. That’s the reason that this passage is called the “Great Commissioning”. Christ calls us to bring him to the world, especially by our love and service. The success of his mission depends on how well we fulfill our role of being Christ to others in the circumstances of our lives.
Before Jesus was crucified, he had his own physical body through which he could speak, listen, touch, forgive, heal, comfort, pray, and love. Jesus no longer walks on this earth with his physical body. Now the Church is his Body. This point was made clear in the 2nd Reading: “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head of over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”.
Who is the Church? The Church is not the Vatican. The Church is not a building. The Church is the community of believers. You and I together, we are the Church. Therefore, we are the Body of Christ in Sudbury in 2020.
Christ can only speak words of love through our lips. Christ can only listen to the troubled through our ears. Christ can only touch the lonely through our hands. Christ needs our generosity so that He can help the poor. He needs our prayers so that His prayer can be lifted up to the Father. When we forgive, Christ forgives and brings peace. When we heal, Christ heals. When we comfort, Christ comforts. Through our love, Christ’s love takes human form. As Bishop Robert Barron points out, Jesus’ Great Commission compels us to come to terms with the fact that our lives are not about us.
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. The Risen Lord, who is seated at the right hand of the Father, is addressing these words in the fullness of their beauty and power to each of us this morning.
As our Eucharist continues, let us reflect on the fact that the Ascension is not about absence, but about presence. May we experience that God is always with us and at work in our lives through Sacred Scripture, Baptism and all the other Sacraments and through each other, Christ’s Body in our world.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
May 24, 2020