Ascension of the Lord (7th Sunday in Easter) – May 29, 2022
A Catholic man dies and goes to heaven.
St. Peter meets him at the Pearly Gates and knows he’s Catholic, so he says to the man, “Here’s how it works. You’ll need 100 points to get into heaven. Tell me all the good you’ve done and I’ll apply a certain number of points for each good action. And when you reach 100 points, you’ll be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Ok,” replies the man confidently.
“To start, I was married to the same woman for fifty years and never cheated on her, not even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful!” replies St. Peter. “That’s worth three points.”
“Only three points?!” the man says.
“Well, I attended Holy Redeemer Church all my life and supported all its ministries and staff with ten percent of my income every week.”
“Terrific!” replies St. Peter. “That’s certainly worth another two points.”
“Really?” replies the exasperated man.
“How about this: I worked in the Minnow Lake Food Bank every week —even in the summer months — and left a sizeable portion of my inheritance to Genevra House.”
“Fantastic,” replies St. Peter. “That’s undoubtedly worth another two points.”
“Only Two points! You’ve got to be kidding me! At this rate, the only way I’ll get into heaven is by the grace of God!”
“Exactly!” replies St. Peter. “Come on in!”
Like that man, we may sometimes have the tendency to think that we have to earn our way into heaven, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ and the grace that he poured down upon sinful humanity by his dying on the cross.
We find confidence in that salvation through God’s Word. And, so long as we live, we’re meant to prepare ourselves for the day of salvation, when we will be lifted up on the clouds, by doing those things that express our faith in real, meaningful, and purposeful ways.
To do this, Jesus presents to us the flowers of fervor and holy joy. Fervor is when we’re passionately and intensely in love with the Lord and are grateful for the salvation with which Christ has graced us. Fervor is when we feel the presence of God deep within our hearts and allow that presence to speak, see, hear and motivate us to action! Such a feeling of fervor for the Good News undoubtedly leads us to an experience of holy Joy in knowing that we’re saved and made inheritors of the Kingdom of God!
Such fervor among the disciples didn’t happen overnight though. It took the disciples 40 days of being with the Lord after his resurrection to truly grasp what God had done for them and what that graced action meant for their lives. Theologically, there was no need for Jesus to wait for forty days before ascending into heaven. He could have done so, once he appeared to his disciples. Yet the number forty has a lot of significance in the Bible. In the time of Noah, it rained for forty days and forty nights before the floods subsided. Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai speaking to the Lord about the Ten Commandments. The Jews who had been freed from slavery in Egypt wandered in the desert for forty years before entering into the promised land. Elijah travelled for forty days and forty nights, relying only on the food provided to him by God. Jesus remained in the desert for forty days being tempted by the Devil before he began his public ministry. And in our first reading, we heard that Jesus “presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking to them about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3)
What we can glean from these examples in scripture is that ‘forty’ is a number of preparation for something significant that will take place after the allotted time is over.
For the disciples, Jesus knew that they needed time to be prodded, cajoled, and encouraged before they could be sent out, as his disciples into the world. Jesus also wanted to make sure that they understood the full significance of what his life, death and resurrection meant for the world. That’s why our Gospel records that “He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” (Lk 24:45) That opening of the scriptures gave them a fervor for the message we heard proclaimed in the Book of Hebrews: “He appeared once for all, at the end of the age, to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself, and now, “has entered into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Heb 9: 24b) Wow! If that doesn’t bring us joy, I don’t know what will!
Jesus testifies on our behalf at the throne of God in heaven! Meditate on that for just a moment! How much we must mean to Jesus, if he puts his life and reputation on the line, to present us before the throne of the Heavenly Father —despite our sins, our short-sightedness, our lackluster faith at times, our resistance to change, and our continual pleas for God’s forgiveness! And he does this, not just for believers, but for every single human being on planet earth! The key word in the Book of Hebrews is “ALL.” “He appeared, once for ALL, to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb 9: 26b)
Just as he did for the disciples, these past forty days have been a time to uplift us with Jesus’ saving message and to challenge us to live it out thoroughly. I use the word, ‘challenge’ because, though Jesus offers ALL the free gift of salvation, everyone doesn’t yet know about this awesome gift of God.
That’s why Jesus commissions his disciples by saying, “You will receive power from on high when the Holy Spirit comes to you and you will be my witnesses…. throughout the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Witnessing means living out what we believe, in the ordinary events of our day. In the Acts of the Apostles, we heard Moses and Elijah tell the disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking toward heaven? This Jesus who has been raised up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1: 11) I can just hear them continue, by saying, “So get busy! Get your hands dirty! Don’t get stuck in the moment! Don’t waste time on trivial matters! What matters is to spread the Kingdom of God with fervor and joy! What matters is allowing that fervor and joy to be contagious! Don’t give up or oscillate between the Kingdom and other, lesser priorities. Place your hopes solely on Jesus; set your eyes on the prize, and hold on!”
All witnessing for Christ requires this mental shift in thinking. It requires a shift from a me-centered mentality to an other-centered mentality. It requires a shift from a them-and-us mentality to a collective-we mentality. It requires a shift from an all-is-sin-and-evil-in-the-world mentality, to an all-is-broken-but-redeemed-by-Jesus’-blood mentality. My brothers and sisters, it took the disciples forty days after Easter to make this mental shift. Jesus asks us today, “Have we made this mental shift ourselves?” Having basked in the light of the resurrection and having been uplifted by the hope of salvation, Jesus urges us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and with full fervor and holy joy, to announce the eternal life Jesus has won for us and the invitation he extends to all to participate in that new life in heaven. For it is by such witness that God’s grace will work through us to lead all to the new life that has no end.
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