Today’s reflection is for The Ascension of the Lord, June 2, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
I remember attending a Southern Baptist church when visiting a friend in Oklahoma years ago. I remember a small, black preacher talking about the salvation that was won for us in Christ Jesus’ resurrection. I don’t remember exactly what he said beyond the key theme, but I do remember that he was on FIRE! Standing up there drenched in sweat, finger in the air, and Bible in his hand; he wanted to know if he could get a witness!
“And then-uh, the Lord Jeeezus-uh, rose from the grave-uh! Can I get a witness? I says-uh, can a bruthuh get a witness?!” Many in the congregation began to yell out, “Amen! Amen!” The sermon was without a doubt one of the most energetic and spirit-filled that I’ve ever experienced, but it was his desire to get a witness that caught me and possesses me still.
As we celebrate Ascension Sunday we celebrate not only the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, but also the truth of Jesus’ ascension to the Father. The author of the Acts of the Apostles teaches us today that Jesus, “presented himself alive to [the apostles]… spoke about the kingdom of God,” and told them to wait, “for the promise of the Father,” and that they would be, “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Jesus promised them a baptism not only of water and repentance, but a baptism of the Holy Spirit and power! He tells them they don’t need to worry about when he’s going to come back because that was for God to know. The only thing they should look forward to is to receiving the very Spirit of the living God! He told them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then, just like that, he was lifted up and was gone.
Jesus gives his disciples this most amazing gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s supernatural power for but one purpose–to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is it. Each of us is given the Spirit and power of God so that we might with force, determination, and zeal get out there and give our testimony, to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection in the world and in our life. We are an Easter people, a resurrected people, and we are obliged to give witness to the transforming power of the resurrection in our life. We who were once dead in sin have been given new life in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
As Hebrews teaches, Jesus died to take away sin and to bring salvation for those who eagerly await him. Jesus’ resurrection is the completion of God’s great work of overcoming sin and spiritual death due to sin. No one is saved outside of Christ’s work on the cross! His redemptive work was for the whole of humanity, and if Jesus never got out of the grave, then, as St. Paul teaches, we are still dead in our sin and salvation is not ours!
He tells the Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished…But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1COR 15:17-20) You see, the Good News depends entirely on the resurrection, because without it there is no forgiveness of sins, and if no forgiveness of sins, no salvation and no good news! It’s as simple as that.
I’m afraid too many Christians are entirely unable to explain why we believe in the resurrection. And that’s probably the case because too many Christians are unaware that we are called to give witness to that very fact! When the Apostles replaced Judas, they drew lots and Matthias was chosen for that one purpose. Jesus ascended, and then just a few verses later Matthias was chosen. St. Peter, in Acts explained it like this, “It is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)
In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes it clear that the primary and principle effect of Confirmation is to make us profess boldly the name of Jesus. Below are the effects of confirmation from the Catechism, paragraph 1303:
Confirmation brings an increase and deepening of baptismal grace: it roots us more deeply as children of God; it unites us more firmly to Christ; it increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us; it more perfectly bonds us with the Church; it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.
Jesus’ Apostles and the disciples with them knew that they had but one job to do–be a witness to the resurrection of Jesus. To be a witness was not an option for Jesus’ disciples then nor for us today. While there are many ways to give witness; through service to God and neighbor, acts of kindness, generosity in giving, being steadfast in prayer, or in our care and concern for others, to name only a few, to NOT give witness is to NOT be a disciple. I have gone door-to-door inviting people to know the name by which humanity is saved, and I see others going door-to-door still, and am always impressed with their commitment and courage.
I don’t know the particular way in which God has called you to be a witness to his resurrection, but I KNOW he is indeed calling you, has equipped you, and desires to send you out to be a witness, “That the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” Like that Oklahoma preacher, Jesus wants you. Can He get a witness?!
Lord, give me the courage to speak your Holy name and to boldly bear witness to Jesus Christ.