Many Christian churches celebrate annually “laity Sunday." The Catholic Church every October celebrates “world mission Sunday." While not in favor of continually adding special themes to Sunday feasts, I think a case could be made for linking Ascension Thursday to the mission of the laity. Why this day?
Some years ago, I asked one of my students, a religious sister, what she would say if she were to preach on the feast of the Ascension. Without a second’s hesitation, she replied: “The Ascension is God’s act of faith in us.” Yes. God the Father entrusts to us the ongoing mission of his Son Jesus Christ to share the good news of God’s love.
On this day Jesus ascends to be seated at the right hand of the Father. He is no longer physically present, going about doing good as he did physically during his three years of public ministry. But God in turn puts his trust in us, that with the help of the Holy Spirit, we – the entire church of ordained and non-ordained - can carry on the work. We might call Ascension Thursday the feast of the Christian looking optimistically to the future and going out on mission.
This is precisely what the apostles are challenged to do. In the Scripture of the day, the angels remind the apostles and us that we are not to look up in the sky (Acts 1:11). Nor, as Jesus reminded us, are we to look back, after putting our hand to the plough (Luke 9:62). And we are not to look down, downcast, as Jesus found the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. We have only one direction to look – and that is forward, looking ahead. On the feast of the Ascension, God looks to us, relies upon us, and trusts us to be the continuing presence of Jesus Christ in the world. Happy Feast Day!
(This year, Ascension Day is Thursday 13 May, or Sunday 16 May if transferred to Sunday.)
Peter Schineller, S.J.