The following is my homily for May 29, 2022, Ascension Sunday.
This Sunday was to be the second Sunday of our message series all about “celebration.” Clearly, given the events of the past week, the topic of celebration is no longer appropriate.
Instead, it falls to me as pastor, to bring words to our gathering, in the shadow of an aberration so appalling that there are no words.
A horrific tragedy, whose horror reminds us yet again, as if any reminder were needed given the ongoing disaster in Ukraine, that evil is real and it is really at work in our world. And this week it was unleashed in full fury with the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas of 2 teachers and 19 children, nearly all of them just 10 years old (my niece Elizabeth is just 10 years old).
This weekend our Masses are dedicated to remembering the victims. In spoken word and song we give voice to our hurt hearts, lift up to the light and love of the Lord those who have died, and urgently pray for those whose loss and grief are unimaginable.
Evil is real and really active in the world. That’s what the facts tell us and that’s what our faith tells us too. But, our faith also tells us that evil does not have the final word, it cannot triumph. In fact, it’s already lost. Battles with evil may continue to rage but the war is won. Through his cross and resurrection, Christ has conquered it, once and for all and forever. And through his Ascension, which we “celebrate” today, he takes his place as king over all creation.
The Ascension is alluded to in several places in the New Testament but only described by Luke, who, in fact, describes it twice….in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, which he also wrote. Essentially a sequel to his Gospel, Acts of the Apostles tells us the story of the earliest Church, the Church of the Apostles, and what happened to them.
The story begins at the Ascension. Forty days after the Resurrection, Jesus asks his disciples to gather once more. Here’s what Luke tells us happened.
When they had gathered together, they asked him,
“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” -Acts 1:6
Notwithstanding the world-changing miracle of the Resurrection, the apostles were still wondering when Jesus was going to restore the political kingdom of Israel. Even at this point, they misunderstood Jesus’ message and mission. They still thought that he was only all about politics. So, their question is essentially, “Why aren’t you taking care of this for us?” He answered them…
It is not for you to know
the time or seasons that the Father established by his own authority.
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you,
and you will be my witnesses –Acts 1:7-8
If you’re left wondering, in the face of this weeks’ tragedy, and who isn’t, where was God, consider the Apostles’ perspective…
Jesus is risen from the dead, he just conquered death, he’s appearing and disappearing daily all over the place, working wonders and dispensing miracles. And meanwhile, they’re daily subjected to the brutal, oppressive regime of the Roman Empire, and…as followers of Jesus, literally living in fear for their lives.
So, they’ve basically got one, simple question: “If you can do anything, why aren’t you doing something about this? If you’re really God, act like it. Where are you in all this?”
Familiar questions for all of us this week, for sure. Where was God in all this? And, frankly, the response he gives is not all that satisfying or satisfactory
It is not for you to know –Acts 1:7
It is not for you or me to know. How this could be, why this could be: It is not for us to know. What is for us to know is how we are to proceed, what we are to do. And he tells us in a simple and clear way.
be my witnesses –Acts 1:8
We are to be witnesses to the Lord Jesus. And that is not always an easy thing to do, especially this week. But, if you think about it, that really is the basic, the fundamental challenge of our faith.
Can we be people of consistent and compelling faith, even in the face of what we will never understand this side of heaven? Can we be witnesses? In the environments we find ourselves in, in all our relationships, in our work life, and home life, and school life, in spoken and unspoken ways, can we be witnesses to his love? The Ascension provides direction, our way forward, despite the chaos we encounter. Can we confidently hold onto that direction, continue to move forward, and provide confidence to the confused?
In the very presence and power of evil, when all hell is literally breaking lose, can we be effective witnesses to the Lord Jesus’ triumph over evil?