The Ascension of the Lord into heaven (Gospel: Matthew 16:15-20)

Let me tell you about two experiences I had recently, which are a reminder to me of how God is constantly at work around us. I often experience things like this. The first one happened this past week. A friend of mine from home, let’s call her Mary, whom I have known for over 30 years, kept coming to my mind during the week. When that happens I always believe it is the Lord telling me to pray for that person. She was instrumental in helping me come back to Church. I haven’t seen her in about a year. So after a few days I sent her a text just saying that she had been on my mind, I was praying for her and I hoped all was ok. The next day I got an email from here which said,
I’m blown away…. I’m stunned by your text… I’ve had a big meltdown with The Lord over the past few days… My spirit has been So irritated… I’m even questioning who I’m praying to. I told Him last night, that I wanted Him to Reveal Himself to me…
Getting your text is helping me to believe that there must be A God, who knows all about me…!
The other experience was in Lee Memorial hospital recently when I was going to visit someone. I was in the elevator with a few people and there was a young mother there with a baby in a push chair. She asked me if I was a priest and I said yes. She asked me how she could get a priest to come to bless her husband who had been in an accident. I told her I would go with her right away if she wished. So we went to her husband who was in intensive care. He had fallen and broken his back and they didn’t know if he would be able to walk again. I asked her if she would like me to give him the sacrament of the sick (also called ‘Anointing of the Sick’). She said that they weren’t married in the Church. I told her this wasn’t the time to worry about that and so I prayed with them and anointed him.  She was so grateful and there were tears streaming down her face. She asked me to bless her children too, one of whom was sick and naturally, I did. That’s called God’s providence and it happens all the time. I think it is good to be reminded of these kinds of happenings, where the Spirit is obviously at work. It is very easy to become cynical, but God is there. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences.
Why do you come here each week? Why do you give up an hour or so of your time to come to a church, listen to readings that were written thousands of years ago and watch a strange ritual? I’m sure it’s not just to listen to me. It is because God draws us here.
After the ascension of Jesus into heaven, the word began to spread about what had happened and that Jesus had begun to appear to the Apostles and others. He was alive and He was speaking to people. Anywhere there have been rumors of Jesus, or Mary appearing in different parts of the world, people come in their thousands to find out more. Why? because we always want to know about the other world and what it is like. We need reassurance that what we believe is real. Despite people who will mock the idea of the spiritual world and some of the attempts to disprove it, the majority of people still believe in God and seek God and that is the power of God’s Spirit at work.
In last week’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘You did not choose me. I chose you.’ God is the one who seeks us out and continually whispers to us to seek him and it was the same back then. So after the resurrection people began to come together and listen to the stories of the Apostles about what had happened and what it meant. The Apostles began to explain to them what Jesus had taught them, what the point of his life and death was and that He now became present to them in the breaking of the bread, that is, the mass. People were eager to hear about this, especially when they saw that the Apostles were on fire with this message that they were willing to sacrifice the rest of their lives to pass on this message and even be killed for it, which most of them were.
What exactly was it that the Apostles were teaching the people? They were fitting all the pieces together going back to the earlier writings of the Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, and telling the people what Jesus had taught them. Jesus’ teaching was what made sense of their lives, of our lives, of why we are here and where we are going when we die; that heaven is real and that we have to be careful how we live this life and about the choices we make.
All that, the reading of the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, the breaking of bread, is what we now call the mass which we continue to do each week. It may not always seem that interesting and often we are distracted, but we keep coming back because we also want to try and make sense of our lives and what is going on around us. Why is there so much suffering in our world? It wasn’t a whole lot different in Jesus’ time either. There was also much killing, injustice, wars, disease and famine, just as there is now.
Jesus ascending into heaven was the time when he told the Apostles to start spreading this message, so that we would know and understand the purpose of our life. When we understand why we are here we live differently.
It also says that when Jesus appeared to them just before He ascended into heaven that they worshiped him, but some doubted. Some doubted, even though Jesus had appeared to them and they had witnessed many miracles. It is normal that we doubt and have questions, because we have not seen what the other world is like. Are we imagining it, is this just a way of comforting ourselves. Karl Marx called religion, ‘The opium of the people’, a drug to comfort us. But the Lord has taught us otherwise and continues to speak to us in many different ways.
For now we will continue to come together, to listen to the Scriptures, the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles and to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. We don’t understand, but we believe.
So then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.