This Sunday we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, perhaps one of the most misunderstood elements within the Christian narrative. The Ascension does not mean Jesus goes "up, up, and away" as if his presence leaves earth, but rather that he assumes the throne of heaven so as to direct matters here on earth.
This Easter season, the Church has asked us to meditate on the Acts of the Apostles. Today Jesus tells us to wait for the coming of the Spirit, which will descend upon them and empower them in their work. It is up to Christians today to continue the work of the apostles and spread the mission of Christ.
Our Gospel for this weekend is taken from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John, which describes the farewell discourse of Jesus the night of the Last Supper. I believe that the distinctive texture of Christian faith is on particularly powerful display here. I might urge all of you to spend time with this farewell discourse during the Easter season.
Our first reading for this weekend, taken from the second chapter of Acts, conveys one of Peter’s great sermons. If we listen attentively, we can learn a lot about good preaching, but also a lot about the nature of Christianity.
Like the two disciples walking towards Emmaus, a symbol of worldly power and security, and away from Jerusalem, the center of sacrifice, we need to be stopped in our tracks. Christ appears to them, but they do not recognize him. They do not recognize him because they are walking the wrong way. The recognition of the pattern of Christ’s life does come until the Eucharistic act which presents the pattern of sacrificial love. Then they immediately go back to Jerusalem, the place of suffering love.
Jesus has come to bring us the divine life. Under his influence we become peaceful, unafraid, evangelizing, and forgiving. Through the Church, saints are made. This is because Christ is at the very center of the Church.
Easter Sunday represents God's great yes to humanity. Throughout history, humanity has turned its back on God, but the Lord has constantly sent rescue operations to bring us back into community with him. The resurrection of Christ is the definitive rescue operation and is our great hope for salvation.
On Palm Sunday, we are privileged to listen to one of the great passion narratives. In Matthew's account, we see Jesus as a still-point in the maelstrom, as God's fidelity amidst a cocaphony of sin. In the course of the passion, Jesus confronts betrayal, laziness, violence, untruth, abuse of power, self-destruction, and wanton cruelty--the whole panoply of human dysfunction. And he takes away this sin precisely by his obedience and his mercy.
The great Lenten readings for Cycle A move in a kind of crescendo from thirst, to blindness, to death—all metaphors for spiritual dysfunction. This Sunday's Gospel deals with death through the story of Lazarus who, after four days in his tomb, represents someone who is totally sunk in sin, totally dead spiritually. The voice of Jesus calls Lazarus, and all of us, back to life no matter what we've done, no matter how dead we are.
Our Gospel story for this weekend is the narrative of the man born blind. In the Bible generally and in John particularly, sight is used as a metaphor for spiritual vision or faith. Therefore, the man born blind is every one of us, born in the state of original sin. The Church, through the sacraments, offers us the salve of Christ's Incarnation so we might be converted, healed, baptized, and attending Mass in right praise.