Friday, May 26, 2017

The Ascension of the Lord into heaven (Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20)

Why do you come here each week? Why do you give up an hour or so of your time to come to a church, listen to readings that were written thousands of years ago and watch a strange ritual? I’m sure it’s not just to listen to me.

After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the word began to spread about what had happened and that Jesus had begun to appear to the Apostles and others. He was still alive and He was speaking to people. Anywhere there have been rumors of Jesus, or Mary appearing in different parts of the world, people come in their thousands to find out more. Why, because we always want to know about the other world and what it is like. In Medjugorje, an apparition site where Our Lady is said to have appeared to six children in 1981, over 40 million people have been there to date. It was the same back then. So people began to come together and listen to the stories of the Apostles about what had happened and what it meant. The Apostles began to explain to them what Jesus had taught them, what the point of his life and death was and that He now became present to them in the breaking of the bread. People were eager to hear about this, especially when they saw that the Apostles were so completely dedicated to spreading this message that they were quite happy to sacrifice the rest of their lives for it and even be killed for it, which most of them were.

 What exactly was it that the Apostles were teaching the people? They were fitting all the pieces together going back to the earlier writings of the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and telling the people what Jesus had taught them. Jesus’ teaching was what made sense of their lives, of our lives, of why we are here and where we are going when we die; that heaven is real and that we have to be careful how we live this life and about the choices we make.

All that, the reading of the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, the breaking of bread, is what we now call the mass which we continue to do each week. It may not always seem that interesting and often we are distracted, but we keep coming back because we also want to try and make sense of our lives and what is going on around us. Why is there so much suffering in our world? It wasn’t a whole lot different in Jesus’ time either. There was also much killing, injustice, wars, disease and famine, just as there is now.

Jesus ascending into heaven was the time when he told the Apostles to start spreading this message, so that we would know and understand the purpose of our life. When we understand why we are here we live differently.

It also says that when Jesus appeared to them just before He ascended into heaven that they worshiped
him, but some doubted. Some doubted even though Jesus had appeared to them and they had witnessed many miracles. It is normal that we doubt and have questions, because we have not seen what the other world is like. Are we imagining it, is this just a way of comforting ourselves. Karl Marx called religion, ‘The opium of the people’, a drug to comfort us. But the Lord has taught us otherwise and continues to speak to us in many different ways.

It might surprise you to know that a many people have spiritual experiences. Sometimes of loved ones who have died, sometimes of the Lord himself. Most people will keep this to themselves, but they will often tell me about it because I am a priest. That is my privilege. A few years ago a man came to me early on a Saturday morning asking if he could speak to me for a few minutes. I thought he was looking for money. He proceeded to tell me that a friend of his who had died some months before had appeared to him in a dream. He was obviously quite shaken by the event and he wanted to go to confession. It was a wake-up call for him. It is good to know that these things happen because it is a sign of how real the spiritual world is, that God is all around us, speaking to us, guiding and encouraging us. It is real and sooner or later we will be shown just how real it is and then everything will make sense.

For now we will continue to come together, to listen to the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We don’t understand, but we believe.

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