Feast of the Ascension (13th May 2018)
The significance of the event we call the Ascension of Jesus is often lost in our focus on the Pentecost event as the birthday of the church. In the Scripture readings for the feast we read two different accounts of Jesus’ departure from the disciples. In the Acts of the Apostles there is a waiting time, waiting for the Spirit, before there is action. However, in the Gospel of Mark there is no sitting around in Jerusalem, there is no ten day retreat, there is immediate action. The Gospel says that the Lord Jesus after he had spoken to them was taken up into heaven … and they went forth and preached.
Jesus did not promise that great signs would accompany the preaching. What we read in today’s gospel is that great signs would accompany the believer. In the name of Jesus, the believer will cast out demons, speak new languages, pick up snakes, drink deadly potions and be unharmed, lay hands on the sick who will recover. Simply put, the believer will be fearless in the face of evil and powerful in healing.
Of course, no one can truly be a preacher unless one is first a believer. When Jesus mentions believer he is not thinking about a person adhering to the creeds and tenets of an organized church. He is talking about belief in God, which he had, and belief in him as God’s Son, the belief which gave him that fearlessness in the face of evil, and powerfulness in healing.
The one who believes then is not just a worshipper. The true believer is an agent of God. The believer – the agent of God – must confront the demons, pick up the snakes, be unharmed by the poisons of life. The believer – the agent of God – hears and speaks in new ways and lays hands on the wounds of the world to bring about healing.
Jesus’ parting gift is not a simple task given to the immediate followers of bringing a message of peace and tranquility. Jesus’ parting gift is for the believer, the two-fold gift of fearlessness and gentleness. Jesus lived it in his fearless preaching of God’s truth and in his gentle healing of the most broken on his path. He gave it his all and he gave it his life. We know people who do this day in and day out, living the total commitment of believer, giving it their all, giving it their lives. Perhaps we do. Perhaps, not yet. We pray we will.
Being a believer is not as easy as bowing or genuflecting.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP