Sometimes when reading the Sacred Scriptures, we can get caught up in the scene depicted by the writers, and then get bogged down in discussions and reflections on ‘did it happen like this’ or ‘did it appear like that’, when the truly important question to ask is, ‘what is God saying to me through His Word right here, right now?’.
Very often, we also look at the world in which we live and divide everything between the sacred and the secular; and we forget that all of creation comes from God – that God’s glory is manifest in all of His creation, and points to Him; all things proceed from God and all things return to Him, so the division we observe between sacred and secular is one of our own making; it is an artificial boundary, but indicative of our fallen nature.
All of salvation history points to the work of God in drawing humanity back to Him, from the moment of our separation from him by our own actions. It is not just a work of God to bring our spiritual world back to Him, but our physical world as well; all of creation is His.
And our invitation, through baptism as adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ, is to play a part in remedying that ‘rift’, removing that barrier, and drawing others into that relationship with our Creator that we were all intended to have from the beginning.
Two of the passages we hear today, together make that point.
As we mark the feast of the Ascension of the Lord, we read the Acts of the Apostles, and recall the event of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. It is all too easy to dwell exclusively on the words of St. Luke and concern ourselves with the appearance of Jesus, ascending, being ‘taken from their sight’. If we selectively only concentrate on this one point, we miss so much more, as is the case when we pick and dwell only on small portions of Scripture.
We are also blessed that our Gospel passage today, from another evangelist, St. Matthew, in which Jesus gives his disciples what has been called ,’the great commission,’. While they may be two different passages from two different writers, these two episodes have far more in common than one might think at first glance.
In the story of the Ascension, we are reminded that this is after Jesus’ Resurrection. He is resurrected bodily, not just in spirit, as the Gospel writers take pains to remind us – he eats with them, touches them, etc. He is returning to the Father completely, in Spirit and in Body – both ‘realms’ of our human existence are reconciled to the Father in Jesus, and the Ascension makes a very graphic statement of this. All things – spiritual and physical – proceed from the Father, and all things return to Him.
But there’s more. At the very end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, this ‘great commission’ to go out and baptize all people , making disciples of all nations, teaching them everything that Jesus commanded, is the means through which His disciples, the Church, participate in that work of reconciling all people to the Father. It is in our physical world that we work to draw others completely to the Father. And in this passage Jesus reminds us that in this, we are not alone, for He will be with us until the end of the age – when all things are completely reconciled to God and His will is made known through all of creation.
That is our commission. That is our calling. That is our invitation to participate directly in Jesus’ work and the Father’s will, the salvation of all souls. We do it with prayer, we do it with study of Christ’s teaching, and we do it with our efforts in caring for our brothers and sisters, for our planet, for all of creation where and when we are able.
It is not ‘working our way’ into heaven. It is rolling up our sleeves and being about the work -spiritual and physical – that our Lord has invited us to do. What a blessing and what a gift!
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!