The Ascension of the Lord | Year A
The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them. When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated. Jesus came up and spoke to them. He said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
For three of the disciples the arrangement to meet Jesus on a mountain may have brought back to their minds their previous “mountain experience” with him, when he was transfigured in their presence. They and others among the disciples may also have recalled that in the scriptures, mountains were often the location of very significant events, as for example, when Moses received the commandments.
In this post-Resurrection meeting with the Jesus, there were echoes of both the Jesus they saw in the Transfiguration and Moses’ reception of the ten commandments. This meeting was with the risen Jesus, and he told them to observe all the commands he had given them. And then he left them in what must have been an awe-inspiring manner. He had said many times in the preceding days that he would leave them and now it had happened. But at the very moment of leaving them he told he would be with them always, “to the end of time”.
He also told them to “make disciples of all the nations” and to teach them. Reaching “all nations”, let alone teaching them, must have sounded like an impossible command to the group of disciples who gathered after the ascension. They were trying to stay out of sight because of their fear of the Jews.
But after Pentecost the apostles did exactly what Jesus had instructed them to do prior to his ascension into heaven. They went out, some of them a very long way from their homes. They were followed throughout the centuries by others who did the same, going to all parts of the world to baptize and teach people about Jesus. Some lost their lives in the process.
We live in a world where all the land masses are known, unlike the time of the great missionary endeavours of the past. The knowledge of Jesus has reached most corners of the world, and is available to almost anyone. What do the words Jesus spoke to the disciples prior to his ascension mean for his followers in the 21st century?
The mission still exists and is as urgent as it has ever been. What it means at a conceptual and practical level for the 21st century followers of Jesus is one of the greatest questions facing those who earnestly desire to follow him. Like the disciples after the Ascension we may have heard the words of Jesus, but how do we put his instructions “to go out” into practical effect in our times?
It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing the mission as a large programme needing lots of organization. The majority of the great missionary endeavours of the past began with one person asking “Lord, what do you want me to do?”. Each one of them listened to the response and infused with the power of the Holy Spirit they acted, often on their own or with a couple of companions. We only have to look at the lives of those who came to New Zealand, such as Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier and Suzanne Aubert, to see that they asked the question and found the answer.
Perhaps we need to be courageous enough to each ask the question “Lord, what do you want me to do?”