This is a homily delivered at Mary, Mother of Mercy Church, Burleigh Waters drawing a connection between the Ascension, the strange times we’ve been living through during COVID-19, and answering a call-to-arms for the mission of the Church.
THE event of the Ascension is a bit like a bridge – leading from the time when Jesus was fully physically present leading his disciples, to the time when the disciples were meant to carry on the mission without his physical presence among them.
It is the bridge between Easter and Pentecost, linking Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
In a sense, we are standing on a bridge too at this time.
Behind us is the time when we didn’t feel as challenged by risks to our health, or economy.
It was a time when we were much more comfortable than we might be feeling today.
In front of us is this time of uncertainty which for some seems catastrophic involving unemployment or financial hardship, and for all, the loss ,at least in the immediate future, of opportunity to do some of the things that we used to like to do.
The Ascension, firstly, offers us a very direct assurance of the presence of heaven, and that one day we will go to be with Jesus.
Secondly it foreshadows the coming of the Holy Spirit – that in the absence of the physical Jesus, that we can have this indwelling spirit to guide us.
Thirdly and significantly, the words of Jesus at the Ascension give us a mission – You are to be my witnesses, in the parish, and beyond its borders where God needs you.
You are to be my witnesses, not just to the schools and hospitals and nursing homes, but to the homeless and disabled and the shut ins.
You are to be my witnesses, not just to the friends you have in church, but to the people in your workplaces, to the tradespeople that come to your home to fix your things, and to the people that have come here as refugees.
We are given this mission to give witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ , by living like Jesus, and doing the sort of things that Jesus did, and occasionally, telling people of the hope we have within us.
As Christians, mission is the main game.
It’s not that the church has a mission.
The mission of Jesus has a church.
The church is the facilitator of Jesus’ mission.
Pope Francis gave what I think was a landmark homily, on the feast of the Ascension in Rome: “This Christian feast in the remarkable times in which we are living appears to me a fruitful source of reflection for the mission belonging to each one of us and to the entire church. The mystery of the Ascension indelibly marked the mission of the church through the work of the Holy Spirit. After the Ascension the apostles and disciples went forth everywhere. I ask everyone to tangibly support missionary work. In simple and practical things that everyone can really do in this present time. When so many are in need. Seek new paths and new forms of service, with a preferential option for the poor.”
We have come into an extraordinary time of mission.
Deacon Gary Stone is a chaplain to the ex-service community.