A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’ David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
Depending on where you live, more specifically what diocese you live in, we find ourselves in the “midst” of the celebration of Jesus’ Ascension to Heaven. In some dioceses, that was commemorated on the traditional day yesterday, Ascension Thursday, which marks a neat 40 days since we celebrated Easter. In other dioceses, the celebration has been transferred to Sunday.
Ascension is an interesting feast that has a lot to say to us. It is not merely a historic commemoration of an event – when Jesus, in the flesh, departed from the Earth, but rather it presents each of us with a great invitation. As stated in the Eucharistic preface for this feast, “Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.” Imagine that, where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. That is extraordinary.
Ascension has two strong qualities – one of hope and one of a challenge, or a commissioning. First the hope: Jesus didn’t ascend to an unknown place. He didn’t disappear into the clouds like the end of some magic act and no one knows where He is never to be seen or heard from again. Instead, “Where He has gone, we hope to follow.” Jesus attained the goal of all humanity – an eternity in Heaven; an eternity caught up in the loving gaze and grace of the Almighty; an eternity of peace, and joy, glory, and perfection that can only be found dwelling in God. And all of us hope to follow Him there.
But, we are also challenged today by the realization that with His ascension, Jesus has left everything else in our hands. Another way of phrasing this challenge is that as Jesus ascends to the Father, He says to us the same as the punch line of the joke I began with: “Now, you be Jesus.”
As Jesus returns to the Father, He says to us, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses …to the ends of the earth.” He says I will send the Holy Spirit so that you will have what you need to be my presence in the world until I return. Jesus brought to us the most incredible gifts ever: he brought us the Gospel; he brought us the Sacraments; he brought us the Church. And then, he left them in our hands to be the ones who proclaim those Holy Words; share those Divine Gifts; and welcome the world to take part in this mystery as one great community of believers. He commissions us to reach out to the margins, to love the unlovable, to be beacons of forgiveness and compassion, to share the same love with the same joy that Jesus himself did.
We must all pick up the call that He has given us to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. We’re being called to bear witness to the Gospel and to make disciples of all nations. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to be Jesus in a world crying out desperately for Him.
Our mission is to be the presence of His kindness, compassion, joy, and love to a world that is too often dominated by vengeance, malice, war, greed, and materialism. To all of that, we are commissioned: You be Jesus! To the division that divides us, we are challenged: You be Jesus. To the polarization that keeps us from being sisters and brothers to each other, we are called: You be Jesus. To the lack of peace and compassion and mercy in our world, we are charged: You be Jesus! Because if not you; if not me; then who will be Jesus in our world?
Jesus reminds us that He will send His Spirit to empower us; that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can, in fact, be His presence in our world now. We need only to open ourselves to the grace of the Word, to the power of the Sacraments, and to the influence of the Holy Spirit. If we do these things, my brothers and sisters, Jesus promises us that mountains will be moved by our faith.
“Christ…has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us, but to be our hope. Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church; where he has gone, we hope to follow.”
Now, YOU be Jesus.
May the Lord give you peace.
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