A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 24)
Ascension of the Lord, Year A – May 8, 2005
“All Power Has Been Given To Me”
Acts 1:1-11 // Eph 1:17-23 // Mt 28:16-20
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
One of the persons who have inspired and helped me greatly is Prof. Ary A. Roest Crollius, a Jesuit missionary based in Lebanon and the former Dean of the Missiology Department at the Gregorian University in Rome. We were privileged to have him preside at a mission sending ceremony in our General House in Rome. It was Ascension Sunday when we celebrated this beautiful rite to send off Sr. Maria Carla to her mission in Taiwan. The Gospel reading that he preached on was Mt 28:16-20 and it was a homily that touched me to the core. In a simple, limpid and incisive way, he shared us beautiful insights about this Gospel passage on the apostolic commission. That ritual service made me experience more deeply the power of the Risen and Glorified Lord at work in our midst, helped me hear more clearly the baptismal call to mission and assured me more fully of Christ’s abiding presence until the end of time.
Today’s Gospel passage (Mt 28:16-20) is so rich that it would be hard to say more or greater things in the same number of words. All the Scripture readings of the Ascension Sunday are very emphatic. According to Eugene Maly: “In a society in which religion has low priority and in a world in which secularism reigns supreme, the words of today’s celebration are vastly important. In them is power to move the Christian into a deeper communication with the Lord and power to assist that same Christian to go forth and proclaim the good news message: Jesus lives.”
The final appearance of the Risen Lord to the eleven disciples on a mountain in Galilee is a very important scene in Matthew’s overall plan of the Gospel. According to the evangelist: “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them” (Mt 28:16). Both the mountain and Galilee are preeminent places of revelation. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 3, explain: “Matthew places this final appearance in Galilee on the mountain. These details have more theological than topographical value. Galilee was where Jesus began his ministry (Mt 4:13). Moreover, it was on the edge of the pagan world: it was called Galilee of the Gentiles. The Lord’s departure from the place of his first manifestation shows the continuity between the universal mission of the apostles and the Church on the one hand and Jesus’ ministry on the other. The mountain, too, is a theological site in Matthew’s Gospel. It was on the mountain that Jesus proclaimed the charter of the kingdom (Mt 5:1-8:1) and on the shore of Galilee, he taught the crowds (Mt 15:29) … It was on the mountain that he was transfigured (Mt 17:1-9), allowing Peter, James, and John to glimpse the glory that he would be given at the conclusion of his Passover. The mountain of the ascension, finally, reveals that the Lord’s cosmic dominion has been given him by God.”
Indeed, on the mountain of the ascension, Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in a new way and gave them an apostolic mandate. He said to them: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-19). Aelred Rosser comments: “Jesus is now revealed as the Christ, the ruler of the universe, with all authority in heaven and on earth. It is in that authority that he utters the great missionary challenge to the eleven who remained faithful. The word ‘therefore’ in this passage is crucially important. Jesus is saying, Because I have full authority, I can send you forth with every assurance that your mission will be successful. And because I have full authority, my presence will never desert you.” Hence, impelled by the final instruction of Jesus, the disciples were to leave the mountain of the ascension and cross the borders of Galilee and go to “all nations”, i.e. to the Gentiles living outside Israel.
Harold Buetow gives us added insight on the apostolic commission of Jesus on the mountain of the ascension: “Brief as this commission is, it is a communication of the authority that Jesus mentions as being his, both in heaven and on earth. And it contains the conditions of membership in Christ’s Church: faith in him, baptism and observance of his commandments. The Chinese proverb says that a picture is worth a thousand words. But the one word that is worth a thousand pictures is that word ‘go’. It brings to our mind’s eye ardent missioners in kayaks, on donkeys, in primitive carts, in worn automobiles, and on foot to bring Jesus to hidden corners of this planet earth … The command applies with equal force to all who call themselves disciples of Christ. Our mission is not to an abstract world. Our social contacts, personal experience, and communications media keep us aware of the real world of sin and problems to which we are sent. Our assignment, like that of the first apostles, is to all the nations. Our work is to baptize and to teach. Baptism literally involves being plunged into the life of God. This rite of initiation is performed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. To do anything to someone in the name of another is to signify that one belongs to the person or persons named. Our participation in the divine life entails all that Jesus has commanded us – all the teaching of Jesus contained in the Gospel. What Jesus commanded is not just the establishment of a new Law, but the beginning of a new way of life.”
This powerful and irresistible apostolic mandate of Jesus is buttressed by his promise: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington explicates: “The promise of Jesus’ continuing presence with the disciples and their successors brings to fulfillment the name Emmanuel (“God is with us”) given to Jesus at conception, in accordance with Is 7:14. The promise assumes a ‘time of the Church’ between the inauguration of God’s kingdom through Jesus and its fullness at the end of the world. The spirit of the Risen Jesus will guide and protect the Church during this time.”
In light of the above, we can affirm that the feast of the Lord’s Ascension is not a commemoration of his departure, but a celebration of the living and lasting presence of Jesus, the Emmanuel – the “God with us”. Harold Buetow concludes: “Jesus’ ascension was not an ending of Jesus’ presence on earth, but a constant testimonial to the fact that he lives. In the face of all the wonder which today’s feast represents, silence in the face of evil and inertia in the face of what must be done does not fit the true follower of Christ. In the face of all the current difficulties of the Church, we who believe in Christ’s ascension must not just passively sit and wait. We must have an urgency in our waiting, an urgency which leads to active commitment on our part to work for our hoped-for future. Let us remember the words of today’s Preface, that Christ has passed beyond our sight, not to abandon us but to be our hope, and where he has gone, we hope to follow.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. Do we believe that God has bestowed the fullness of divine authority on Jesus, the Risen Lord, glorified as the Christ and ruler of the universe? Do we humbly and lovingly submit to his absolute dominion over us?
B. How do we realize the apostolic command, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations …” (Mt 28:19)?
C. Do we firmly believe in the assurance of Jesus’ abiding presence: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of time” (Mt 28:20)? How do we translate this divine assurance into a hope-filled life of discipleship and apostleship?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
(Cf. Preface Ascension I)
Leader: Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
Today the Lord Jesus, the king of glory,
the conqueror of sin and death,
ascended into heaven while the angels sang his praises.
Christ, the mediator between God and man,
judge of the world and Lord of all,
has passed beyond our sight,
not to abandon us but to be our hope.
Christ is the beginning, the head of the Church;
where he has gone, we hope to follow.
The joy of the resurrection and ascension renews the whole world,
while the choirs of heaven sing forever to your glory:
Assembly: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations … And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray that all baptized Christians may be strengthened, renewed and transformed anew by the power of the living Word proclaimed in the liturgy of the Lord’s Ascension. Pray that they may trust in the power of the glorified Lord, enthroned in heaven, and be assured by his abiding presence so that they may be able to respond to the apostolic mandate to go and make disciples of all nations. Pray for all missionary personnel, especially those dedicated to the task and challenge of inculturation.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may participate more meaningfully in the saving mission to go and make disciples of all nations, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 24): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323