Homily for Solemn Pontifical Mass of the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord in Year A 2017 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta, 28 May 2017
My dear friends in Christ,
We all have a tendency to hold on to that which is familiar and comfortable. Equally, we tend to resist changes that may challenge the status quo and make us feel vulnerable. If we have to choose between a familiar but unpleasant situation and an unfamiliar situation, we might just put up with the former rather than opt for the latter. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.
Scriptures, however, challenge us to overcome our fear of the unknown and to discover the God of life and love beyond the familiar patterns, known boundaries and limited horizons. In fact, one of the central insights that Scriptures offer to us is that it is not in yearning for or holding on the known and the familiar but in re-imagining the future and venturing into the unknown chaos we shall find new life.
This is the story of Abraham and Sara who left their homeland and ventured into an unknown destination called the land of promise. They dared to follow the big dream God had in store for him. Ruth and Naomi did the same when they embarked upon a new future in a faraway country after both of them had become widows. Mary and Joseph, the disciples of Jesus did the same. I am inspired by their examples and I want to follow their path, which is why I chose my motto to be “go further into deeper waters”. I can only be a better follower of Jesus when I am prepared to abandon my comfort zone and committed to be all I can be and do all I can do for the sake of others.
The Ascension that we celebrate today is also about the courage to let go of the familiar and to embrace a new future. The disciples are challenged to re-imagine their relationship with Jesus in a different way beyond his physical presence. More importantly, they are challenged to take responsibility for their discipleship which is to work for the new future inaugurated by Jesus. The Ascension is not about the disappearance of Jesus. Rather it is about a new way of being present. Jesus is no longer bound by the law of space and time. By ascending, he is actually able to be with the disciples at all times, at all places. They were to discover this in the days that followed, especially after Pentecost.
St Luke tells us of the Ascension in the Acts of the Apostles: “He was lifted up while they looked on”. It goes on to say that the disciples were left standing there gazing intently at the sky, just as we often try to catch the last glimpse of our loved ones at airports or other places of departure. The disciples wanted to hold on to the earthly Jesus, they were reluctant to let him go. Yet as the story unfolds, the paradox is that in letting go, in not clutching tightly onto the past, the disciples discovered a new exciting future. Jesus was gone from their sight. But that’s just the end of an old chapter, rather than the end of the story. It is precisely in his physical departure that opened a new chapter in their lives and the life of the Church. Thus one of the rhythms of life is made evident. Just as in dying a new form of living is revealed, here the separation of Jesus from his disciples brings about a new way of presence and ultimately a new way of life for them.
So, far from being sad Luke tells us they returned to Jerusalem full of Joy. They were energised for the mission of proclaiming the good news. No sitting around looking up to heaven, but a radical living out of the gospel. The Ascension points us towards a future, which is being prepared for us now even as we try to realise in us. The feast of the Ascension is the Church’s celebration of her future. “May we follow where he has led and find our hope in his glory for he is Lord forever and ever”.
But we are not to sit around dreaming about a spiritual, high in the sky kind of heaven. Not at all. If those two men in white were here today they’d probably tell us to get on with it, to live out our faith and commitment to the Lord. When we struggle to overcome our selfishness and forgive those who injure us, he is at our side. As we reach out to others with kindness, care and compassion we find him. We must not only share our faith in Jesus, risen and glorified, but also prepare for the coming of the Kingdom by working for justice and peace here and now.
Let us not be afraid of embracing the new future inaugurated by Jesus. This is the meaning of the Resurrection and the Ascension of our Lord, the divine empowerment of his Gospel dream! May what we celebrate today serve to remind us of our commitment to the vision of Jesus which is to build God’s Kingdom on right relationships, peace, justice and love. Let us go forward in our mission to make a difference in the world, confident of the victory of Christ and his promise to be with us till the end of time.
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