Feast of the Ascension
05 June 2011
Rev. Thomas R Marlier
The Gospel of Matthew tells of the doubts of most of the Apostles and of Mary Magdalene even though they saw the empty tombs with Angels telling them “He is not here” and “He has risen as He told you”.
The Acts of the Apostles tells of the time between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Jesus told the Apostles were to go back to Jerusalem after ascended to heaven in front of their eyes and to wait to be baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. They went to the upper room must probably where the celebration of the Last Supper took place. There were 120 of them, the 11 Apostles, some women, plus Mary and the brothers of Jesus.
Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians tells us that before the earth began we were chosen to be holy, that we were adopted by the Father through Jesus plus a prayer that we may be enlightened to see Hope in Jesus, to see his full power and to see ourselves in the Church as one body, namely the one body of Jesus.
FAITH AND DOUBT
It is so refreshing to see how hard it was for the Apostles to accept that Jesus had risen from the dead. In today’s Gospel according to Matthew, Mary Magdala and the other Mary went to anoint the body of Jesus on Sunday morning. They weren’t thinking about the Resurrection even though Jesus had been teaching that He “would rise again on the third day”. Why would they go to anoint the body of Jesus if He was going to come back to life that day. An Angel at the tomb reminded them that “He is not here, for He has been raised just as He said.” The women went to the Disciples to tell them that “He has been raised from the dead”. How much they believed is not known.
Then in the Gospel of John, which be read next week on Pentecost, more detail is added. Mary of Magdala runs back from the tomb and tells Peter and John: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put Him”. This is why Mary of Magdala is called “The Apostle to the Apostles”, an important position for a woman. So Peter and John ran to the tomb. John beat Peter, but waited for Peter to go in first. Only John is said to have believed, but the Gospel says “they did bit understand the scripture that He had to rise from the dead”.
Then Mary Magdala returns. She to someone she believes to be the gardener: “(T)me where you laid him, and I will take him”. Jesus says one word to her, “Mary”, and she know who it is. Mary goes back to the disciples and says simply: “I have seen the Lord”. Later that evening Jesus comes through locked doors, says “Peace be with you” (As we do at our celebrations). He shows his hands and his side. The disciples now believe.
But my Patron Saint, Thomas, wasn’t there and he is stubborn. He gets put down by Jesus the next week, when Jesus comes through the locked doors, says again “Peace be with you”, and then tells Thomas to put his finger in the wounds on His hands and put his Hand into His side, and then believe! Jesus tells Thomas: “Great. You see Me and believe, but blessed are those who have not seem Me and yet have believed. Jesus was clearly talking about us who now live in the 21st century. A rather strange part in today’s Gospel by Matthew says the disciples went to the Mount of Olives, they saw Jesus, they worshiped Him, but
And then He ascended into Heaven, says that He will send the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith and that He will come again at an unknown time.
Let’s think about what this means for us who have never seen Jesus. We believe in Him, but rather strangely. It is an “up and down” experience. The faith is there, but still are the doubts, the same doubts of those who actually say Jesus after He rose from the dead. In other words, our “I believe You have risen from the dead, Jesus” is often matched by our “Where are You? and “Are You real, Jesus?”
Vatican Council II changed our way of thinking about Faith. Those of us who lived in the 1940s and mid 1950s under Pope Pius XII were taught that we had Faith when we simply followed whatever Rome said. This is a type of Faith. But it is not really enriching. Vatican Council II expanded the idea of Faith to what it was at the time of the Apostles, namely going from Faith, to questioning and back to Faith as the Apostles did. A name was give, namely “homo viator” or “man the wanderer” or “man on a journey” which includes periods of joyful Faith and periods of doubt and questioning. No longer blindly saying that what the Church says is “Faith”, but rather forcing each of us to examine individually through our consciences what exactly does Faith in the Lord Jesus mean. And this examination will lead to periods of doubt. There is no longer one of us who say “the Church says so”, but rather persons who like the Apostles go back and forth on our belief in Christ. “Yes, He is our Savior Who rose from the dead and Who will come again” to our own “Is He real? Did He rise from the dead? Does He exist in our lives. And what does He mean in this scientific 21st century?” We are now a people, like the Apostles, who go back and forth in a journey. The Church passes down to us dogmatic beliefs, but nobody, not even the Church, can give us true Faith.
It really is simple: “Either we believe personally in the risen Christ who has left the earth to ascended into Heaven or we don’t.” Yes or No. And we are comfortable, as the Apostles came to be, with some doubt which even the Church cannot take away from us. We are like the Apostles or we are not. It is that simple.