In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.
While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. "This," he said, "is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."
So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" He replied, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
The final paragraph of St Matthew's gospel makes no direct reference to the ascension, but it gives us the Lord's final instructions, his Last Will and Testament. In an earlier episode Jesus says, "I have given you authority over the power of the evil one." But authority over everything, however, is something that he reserves to himself. Those who go in his name, do so with his authority. The authority goes with the mission, so he adds, "Go, therefore." As if to say, "because I have the authority, you can go wherever I send you. My power, my promises, and my Spirit will go with you, and will see you through." Then he concludes with the clear and definite promise, "and be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
There was an elderly woman who was troubled over making out her will. She had grown up in those times when making a will, or receiving what were called "The Last Rites" were things that you put off until the last moment. She feared that making her will would mean she had not long to live. On the other hand, we know of families that split up badly just because someone belonging to them hadn't made a will. In today's gospel, Jesus is quite definite about what final words he has to say to his disciples still doubted. He had asked them to meet him on the mountain, and they did that. Like any gathering of people, their feelings were varied. Some of them worshipped him, while some of them still doubted the reality of his resurrection.
The mission he gave them was simple to understand but difficult to carry out. It was to teach other people all that he had taught them. Just as he asked his disciples to obey him, they were to ask others to obey his directions and instructions also. The programme of conversion and salvation must continue from generation to generation, until the end of time. With all the changes in the church and in society, two things have not changed: Jesus himself, and his message of grace and mercy. The Message and the Messenger have never, and will never change. People who are bothered about changes in the church and society should remember that the basic things that matter have not changed at all. And his mission to them is our mission too.
"You write a new page of the gospel each day,
through the things that you do and the words that you say.
Others read what you write there, if faithful and true.
So, what is the gospel according to you?"
There seems to be a lot of depression around today, or it may be that we are now more aware of it. But there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I could be in the midst of a crowd, and be lonely; while one can also feel, like Cicero, never less alone than when alone ("minus solum, quam cum solus" De officiis 3.1). This applies especially to those who take seriously the final words of today's gospel, "l am with you always." Communication with our Lord doesn't even need words. If I am open to His presence in my life, and live with a conscious awareness of his presence, I can experience like those first Christians the Joy of the Gospel.