During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost we have a chance to reflect on the difference Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension make on our lives. In our liturgies, we read these weeks from the Book of Acts to see how the early church struggled and survived during its first critical days. This early Christian community was mission-minded, wanting to out immediately to tell others the good news. But Acts begins with a strange message by the risen Christ to his disciples. He tells them to wait.
This had to be another upheaval of emotions for the disciples. They had gone through some tough times: seeing their Lord and Master betrayed, arrested and executed, bringing them to the edge of despair. They had heard from others that He indeed had risen, but still they doubted and were afraid.
Then, finally, they experienced His risen presence for themselves in utter joy. They felt that they were now ready to get on with the business of proclaiming the Good News.
Instead they are told to "wait for the promise of the Father."
In reality, they aren't ready to go off spreading the news of his resurrection. They are a small, fearful community that has no power on its own. As the Gospels remind us, these first followers of Jesus have always had a tendency to get his message all wrong. What's more, when things got tough, they locked themselves in the upper room and went into hiding.
We are not so different from them at all.
The disciples are told - as are we - to stop a moment, take a breath, and wait for God' promise to be fulfilled. It's a difficult lesson to learn that this will come at God's timing and not one's own. They are to break free of their limited view, their prejudices and tendency to misinterpret the meaning of Jesus' life. They will, he says, have to be, "my witnessers in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth." For all of this they will need help. So they must acknowledge their dependence on God and wait, patiently and hopefully. Waiting on the Spirit is a reversal of their usual mode of operating.
We, too, are to be witnesses to Jesus by the integrity of our lives and the commitment to his Gospel. And, like the first disciples, we too need to wait for the gift of the Spirit who sustains us when the going gets rough.
As we read the Gospels and relive the mystery of the Spirit in our daily lives, we must change all of the verbs from the past tense to the present. The Ascension story is a mission given to us. Pentecost is our rebirth in the Spirit. The original fire of the Gospel must burn in us. This gift must bring excitement, passion, and courage to us. We must shake off complacency, intolerance, and indifference. The Spirit must become our strength, our light, our hope, and our joy. It must become the driving force for all activity.
What could be more urgent and necessary for us than awakening our passion for faithfulness to Jesus? He is the best the Church has to give, the best we can offer and communicate to today’s world. Jesus is the center of our lives – everything else comes later.