Monday, May 21, 2012

Sunday Sermon

May 20, 2012 Ascension Sunday We celebrate today the Ascension of our Lord into Heaven. Imagine the wonderment among the Apostles when they saw Christ, risen from the dead, now ascending above the clouds. Their astonishment was so great that they stood, staring, not knowing what to do until angels were sent to them, reminding them that they needed to get on with the tremendous task that the Lord had entrusted to them. The solemn festival of the Ascension directs our attention to the Risen Lord. At the same time, the Ascension reminds us that the risen Lord's saving work on Earth continues now through his disciples, whom he sends “into the world to proclaim the gospel.” There was something very right about the Apostles’ original reaction. Perhaps, those disciples were even tempted to feel abandoned in some way. Christ had been with them, and had guided them for so long. Would they have to get along without him? The Ascension is not an abandonment of the disciples by Jesus but a way for Jesus to be present in a new way, continuing the saving mission given him by the Father. The double consequence of this festival of the Ascension is Jesus entering into glory and us taking up his mission as our own. We, too, must take some time to reflect on, and marvel at, the mystery of our Lord’s ascension into heaven. We can have trouble celebrating the Ascension when we get all tangled up in the mechanics of the event. The “how’s” have a way of binding us to God's truth. The story of Jesus and Nicodemus is a case in point. Nicodemus came down with a severe case of the “how’s.” How can I enter the womb again? How can I be born anew when I am a senior citizen? Being so concerned with mechanics can happen to us on Ascension Sunday. If “How” is our primary concern, the Ascension is only a fantastic feat, or cosmic trick. To dwell on how the Ascension happened will only turn it into a biblical sideshow, complete with wires and Mirrors. We could speculate forever on what happened and never figure it out. Yet we are not supposed to figure it out. Where to be drawn into what the Ascension meant for the disciples and what it means for us. Jesus himself gave them the answer to this doubt, for he promised that he would be with them always. Moreover, he also promised that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them. Yet, when confronted with the lack of Christ’s visible presence among them, the disciples found themselves not knowing what to do, except to stare up at the sky and remain in that mysterious moment. What they soon realized, after the Holy Spirit had come upon them, and helped them to grasp the meaning of what Jesus had taught them, was that our Lord had to ascend into Heaven to complete his Paschal Mystery. The Ascension is about endings and beginnings. It is about joy and hope. Earthly ministry of Jesus had ended. He had taken up the cup prepared for him as he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The time had now come for him to return to the Heavenly Father and take his place at the right hand of God. We know this is true, but why the dramatic exit? Ultimately, God only knows; maybe has something to do with finality. The dramatic parting proclaims in a vivid way that Jesus' time with us in human form is over. Sweat does this departure mean? Is "out of sight, out of mind,” what it mean? No. How about “absence makes the heart grow fonder”? No, that won't work either. Neither cliché fits. Jesus is not “out of sight, out of mind,” is not his absence but his profound presence that makes our hearts grow fonder. Humanity was estranged from God by sin. Left to ourselves, we were helpless. We could never bridge the infinite chasm between God, our creator, whom we had grievously offended, and ourselves, his lowly and sinful creatures. Only God could save us, but only a man like us could act on behalf of humanity. When Christ became man, born of the Virgin Mary, he made our salvation possible. The Son of God became the Son of Man, fully divine and fully human. Jesus Christ chose to unite God and man in himself. From the moment of his Incarnation, we see our Lord setting things right, restoring humanity to the dignity that we had lost, and even elevating us beyond our original state. God became man so that man might be able to live with God forever in heaven. The Ascension is a fulfillment of the divine plan for salvation that continues throughout the world for all peoples and all times. The Ascension is a transfer saving ministry from Jesus to us. But this transfer does not mean we are on our own. No, disciples minister in Jesus' name, they minister with Jesus' power and life, and they always look to Jesus to live in preach effectively. The Ascension signals the beginning of the reign of Christ. Jesus has left the boundaries of time and space and is taken his place with God. The Ascension is not something to cry over, but rather something to cause joy. As Jesus told the disciples in John's Gospel, “it is better for you that I go to the Father.” He is now the great intercessor described in the book of Hebrews. He is above all and in all. All is now his life: life, death, defeat, victory, sorrow and joy. Now nothing, as St. Paul tells us, can separate us from his love. The Ascension means he is with us in the most profound sense. He is with us when we gather, two or three in his name. He is with this in Word proclaimed, is with this in bread shared and wine poured. Is with this as Savior for he is able to save those who approach God through him. The Ascension is no time for tears. In Luke's gospel, we are told the disciples went away to Jerusalem, not to hold a funeral, but to raise a few toasts! This is why we too are gathered together. We are not here to hold a memorial service for someone who is absent, nor are we here to sit and reflect upon the vacuum created by his exit. No, we are here to celebrate. It's a party of sorts. The church calls it a feast, which means a celebration. A feast in honor of the crucified, risen and ascended as the Christ who is with us to the end of age. In his Ascension, then, Christ brings the human to the divine. What is earthly is intimately wedded to what is heavenly. The King who first came down from heaven, who died, and who rose to life again, has returned. Jesus Christ returns triumphantly to heaven, carrying with him his sacred humanity, to take his seat at the right hand of the Father. When Christ ascended into heaven, he took humanity with him. Where he has gone, we hope to follow, for he has gone to prepare a place for us. What signs accompanied believers today? The most amazing aspect of this gospel is that Jesus’ disciples are able to work fantastic wonders like picking up snakes, drinking poison and surviving, or healing the sick. Jesus’ glorious presents to us and within us makes us the very sign of the gospel, of belief and new life. We are the sign of the risen Lord's presence! We are to sign of the continuation of his saving mission. We are to sign of risen life in our world today. We are to sign of belief, of the gospel being preached, not only in what we say, but also in the way we live. We are to sign of the visible power of the gospel at work transforming us and our world. Jesus’ Ascension is a pledge that he has not abandoned humanity but instead is present to us in a new, glorified way as we take up his work of salvation. We must look only to the glorified, ascended Christ for our power to preach and for the risen life that strengthens us for this saving mission. We must look only to the glorified Christ so we can be worthy of the call we have received. We, then, are not only those who receive the gift of salvation but we also are the very signs by which salvation is announced and God's reign continues to be inaugurated throughout the whole world. We look to glorified, ascended Christ as we wait for the promise of the Father to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. It would be daunting for us to think that we alone continue Jesus’ mission after his ascension. But not so. The gospel assures us that the Lord works with us. What dignity is now ours! We are given the gifts to walk in the footsteps of Jesus on this earth, assured that we too will one day ascend to share in his glory. May we always be mindful of the dignity to which Christ has raised us. We live not for any earthly measure of happiness or success, but for eternal life with God. We are citizens, not of this world, but of heaven. May we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, our Lord, who sits at the right hand of God the Father, and, may we join him one day. We have every reason to be joyful and full of thanks, just as the disciples were on that very first Ascension Day. This Ascension Sunday is a feast, a time to make Eucharist, a time to give thanks. This day, as always, we had the joyful opportunity of approaching the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor. So come, let us feast! God Love You + + The Most Rev. Robert Winzens Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church San Diego, Ca.

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