Readings: AA 1.11; Ps. 47; Eph. 4.1-13; Mk. 16.15-20
The Church teaches Christians to view the Ascension of Our Lord as part of a continuum which progresses from the suffering and death of Jesus, to his Resurrection and Ascension, and concludes with Pentecost. These five events are to be considered as movements within Jesus'
accomplishment of salvation. In a few minutes from now, during our profession of faith we will proclaim our belief in all five steps in the continuum of Jesus' winning salvation for us. The Ascension highlights Jesus' departure from earth in his glorified body and soul to sit in exaltation at the
right hand of the Father.
When and where did this ascension take place? The four gospels make very little mention of it. Matthew makes no mention of ascension. Mark writes only that "Jesus was taken up into heaven, and took his seat at the right hand of God." Luke concludes his gospel with these words:
"Jesus led them out near Bethany, and with hands upraised, blessed them. As he blessed them, he left them, and was taken up to heaven. John writes that after Jesus appeared to his apostles, Jesus says, "Do not cling to me. I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them: "I am
ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." The gospels seem to teach simply that Jesus resurrected, made at least a half dozen resurrection appearances, and on that same one day ascended into heaven. The Acts of the Apostles is the only source that delays Jesus' post-resurrection
appearances on earth for forty days. Forty, of course, is a symbolic number in the scriptures, and implies a long time, not necessarily forty days.
Remember how God appeared to various people in the Old Testament; this is called a theophany. When the resurrected Jesus appears to his apostles and disciples, this is called a Christophany. It seems fair to say, from current Scripture study, that Jesus seems to have
resurrected and ascended on the same day. The post-resurrection appearances may be described as Christophanies.
I'd like to comment on some details of today's reading. Luke addresses the Acts of the Apostles to Theophilus. The name Theophilus may be translated as either "lover of God," or "beloved by God." Theophilus may be a single person, or it may be a symbolic name for all
Christians, i.e., all those who believe that Jesus Christ is God. Do you think it would it be appropriate for someone to call you "Theophilus?" Are you a lover of God? If so, Luke has written this Acts of the Apostles for you and to you.
Today's gospel is Mark 16.15-20. Almost all scripture scholars teach that Mark's gospel had ended originally at Mark 16.8; verses 9-20 are an add on that a second author composed probably at the end of the first century or later. In 325, the Council of Nicea included those
verses when that Council declared what were the accepted books of the Bible. These final verses include the assurance that "those who believe in Jesus' name … will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them." Scholars suggest that this is a hyperbole,
an exaggeration. The author was so confident in the power of Jesus operating through the Church, that he suggests that they can do almost anything. Personally, I do not recommend that you play with snakes or drink poisons.
The application of today's gospel comes from the readings. St. Mark's gospel says, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." And St. Paul writes to the Ephesians: "Jesus gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as
pastors and teachers … to build up the Body of Christ." Friends, in what way has God gifted you, and according to your particular gifts God calls you. Single people, married people, priests and consecrated religious people, you are Theophilus, lovers of God. Can you name one way at home, work, school,
or leisure that you might further the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven? … I repeat the words of St. Mark's gospel: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature."
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