Readings of the Word of God
Called to be the living presence of God
The feast of the
Ascension commemorates the return of Jesus to the Father. Jesus leaves in body but remains with us through the gift of the Spirit.
We will celebrate the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit in next Sunday’s feast of Pentecost.
The true meaning of our feast today is not found in Jesus’ leaving, but in the way he calls his disciples back together, to re-form them as a new community entrusted with the spread of the Gospel. Jesus sends the disciples out to make disciples of all nations and to teach them his way.
But the disciples are not left to do all that on their own. Jesus promises that he is with them always.
Jesus has called the ragged, group of disciples, scattered after his crucifixion, back to himself to form them, fragile and doubtful as they are, into a community for mission in the name of God. The task of the historical Jesus is complete; the task of the church as the living Body of Christ has just begun. It is comforting to recognise that Jesus doesn’t insist on perfection before he calls us and entrusts us with his mission.
This mission is authorised by God and passed on to us through Jesus. It is not about authority over others. It is actually a call to act as God would act, true to God’s heart as Jesus has taught us.
Ever since Easter, we have been proclaiming that Jesus is alive. The feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost help us to realise that we are part of a long tradition of faithful disciples. We have our faults and failings, but our call is to witness to and teach the way of Jesus by the kind of people we are, the values and attitudes we hold, in thought, word and action - to be the living presence of God in the world today.
Remembering & making present
Our reading of The Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel (13:31-17:26) continues
in the Gospel for today as Jesus makes a number of promises to the disciples.
The opening words say that those who love Jesus will keep his word. This is not like keeping road rules. It is about allowing the word of Jesus to form our hearts and shape our lives. Throughout John’s Gospel the word that Jesus speaks is about his boundless affection for the Father and the disciples.
Another favourite theme of John is that, just as the Father and Jesus abide together in love, they will also come to abide in the heart of the disciple.
It is this bond of love that creates the ‘dwelling place’ for God in the heart of the disciple. There is no separation from the Father; the disciple does not need to look to a heavenly place in order to experience the presence of God.
Jesus promises that the Father will send the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to help the disciples ‘remember’, that is, to understand more deeply the words and actions of Jesus, especially his death and resurrection. This remembering will make Jesus present to them.
Abiding in the love of Jesus and the Father brings a peace that cannot otherwise be found in this world, so the disciples have no need to be afraid of the future, not even the impending departure of Jesus. In fact, if they are already truly abiding in the presence of God and Jesus in their hearts, why should his physical departure disturb them?
Jesus does not speak these words in the sense of foretelling the future, but rather to prepare the disciples for their daily ‘remembering’ of, and making present, his words and actions in their own lives.
This Gospel begs us ask ourselves if we are truly people who remember Jesus and allow his Spirit to shape our words, thoughts and actions so that he may remain present to us and to those around us.