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Sermons > Sunday after the Ascension

5 Jun 2011

“All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.”  (Acts 1:14)                                       In the name …

It was almost unbelievable to see a tornado churning down the Connecticut River, over the Memorial Bridge and through the Springfield area.  I don’t associate tornados with areas this close to home.  Fr. Sen. Soltysiak called me sometime after 4PM on Wednesday to tell me that he saw the funnel cloud off his back porch in Westfield.  Watching the news that night, people from all over the area were sending in photos and videos of the storm and its aftermath.  I went to Senior Night at Frontier on Wednesday, but when I returned home I heard that the local news was almost constant throughout the evening with breaking news about the storms, and then the late news continued with the story.  The newspapers the next day and the days after didn’t let-up either.  It was front page news throughout the state and even made the national news.  It was all anyone could talk about.

This catharsis of wanting to know more and of sharing what is already known, this is all natural.  This is what you would expect from people and their reaction to something of this sort.  Now I don’t want to make light of the storm and its consequences because I realize that people have died and been hospitalized, that others have lost homes and possessions, but let me contrast the natural reaction of people who could not stop sharing their stories about this storm with the remarkable silence coming from the Bible about the extremely remarkable time between Easter and the Ascension.  If the pattern continued after the resurrection appearances, the 40 some-odd-days in which Jesus appeared to His followers from His arrest on the Mount of Olives to His ascension from the Mount of Olives were marked by occasional and unannounced appearances.  Let’s try and place ourselves in that small group around the resurrected Jesus.  He has died and come back.  He’s there for the talking to.  What do we ask Him?  I’d be absolutely amazed if the first question out of most of our mouths was not about what it’s like after death, what’s on the other side.  A fellow Brandeis graduate, Mitch Albom, has made quite a name for himself telling his stories about lives after death.  His book The Five People You Meet in Heaven was a bestseller and was also made into a television movie. And there are a slew of other accounts purporting to tell us about what life is like on the other side including one by a young boy that has sold over a million copies.  And yet, the Bible is silent.

Since it’s so natural for people to want to speak about the extraordinary events they have experienced, just like we saw in the hours and days following Wednesday’s tornado, why is the Bible silent about what Jesus revealed after He arose from the dead?  I think it’s fair to assume that the disciples would have asked the questions, so again, why is there is only silence?  

There seem to be two possible answers.  One is that this is all make-believe, that there are no stories from this time between Easter and the Ascension because there were no extraordinary encounters with the once-dead-now-alive Jesus.  This argument, though, runs into a problem almost immediately.  The Bible is surprisingly honest about the fact that Jesus’ family were none too impressed with the idea that He was the Messiah.  The oldest Gospel contains the stunning revelation that at the very beginning of His public ministry, in the words of the Bible, “[His family] went out to restrain Him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of His mind.’” (Mark 3:21)  The last written Gospel has the straight-forward statement: “Not even His brothers believed in Him.” (John 7:5)  And not one of the Synoptic Gospels reports that Mary or anyone else from Jesus’ family was at the cross when He dies.  But today we hear that the very earliest group of believers after Easter now includes “Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers.” (Acts 1:14)  Something amazing, indisputable and irrefutable had to convince them to re-evaluate their opinion of Jesus, and the only something had to be their eye-witness of the resurrected Jesus.  James, the brother of Jesus, will even become the leader of the Jerusalem church, and yet before Easter the brothers only ridiculed Jesus.  It’s hard if not impossible to explain these remarkable and immediate conversions without referring to Jesus’ actual post-resurrection appearances.

So if the appearances are for real, then the only other reason why the Bible is silent about them is that Jesus must have re-directed their attention to more pertinent matters, to more relevant issues.  On Thursday we read Luke’s account of the Ascension.  The disciples want to know about the schedule for the end of time.  I guess not too unlike that guy who thought it was going to be May 21st.   But just before Jesus ascends, He redirects their attention away from their speculations about the far distant future and back to their immediate present.  Jesus turns them away from their questions about end of time and gets them to focus instead on the Feast of Pentecost, which was only ten days away.  He seems to be telling them to concentrate their efforts on where they can be the most useful and effective, and not to be diverted into flights of fancy, that the mystery of God is to be found around us.

Liturgically we’re in a time of anticipation.  Jesus has ascended, but we are still waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit.  And while we wait we are reminded that our attention should be on the present.  Here and now is where we can find God, where we are helpful to the work of God.  There are gifts and responsibilities in the present that shouldn’t be overlooked in a rush to the future.  We can trust the future to God, but we can’t forget that God has entrusted the present to us as His people, as His church.  That we may take this promise of the present-time seriously, that we may strive to do what we can with what we have for the good of our neighbours, for God’s kingdom on earth, and also for ourselves, for these things we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randolph Calvo


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