Lectio Divina: The Ascension of the Lord (C)
The mission of the Church:
To give witness to the pardon which Jesus offers to all
Luke 24, 46-53
Shaddai, God of the mountain,
You who make of our fragile life
the rock of your dwelling place,
lead our mind
to strike the rock of the desert,
so that water may gush to quench our thirst.
May the poverty of our feelings
cover us as with a mantle in the darkness of the night
and may it open our heart to hear the echo of silence
until the dawn,
wrapping us with the light of the new morning,
may bring us,
with the spent embers of the fire of the shepherds of the Absolute
who have kept vigil for us close to the divine Master,
the flavour of the holy memory.
a) The text:
46 and he said to them, 'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that, in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses to this. 49 'And now I am sending upon you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high.' 50 Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands he blessed them. 51 Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. 52 They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy; 53 and they were continually in the Temple praising God.
b) A moment of silence:
Let us allow the voice of the Word to resonate within us.
a) Some questions:
- In the name of the Lord: In whose name do I live my daily life?
- To all nations. Am I capable of welcoming all or do I discriminate easily according to my point of view?
- Stay in the city. Do I have staying power in the most difficult situations or do I try, even before I understand their meaning, to eliminate them?
- My prayer. Do I praise the Lord for all he does in my life or do I ask things for myself?
b) A key to the reading:
These few lines speak of life, motion, journey, meeting… This is the aim of the so it is written and all the nations. Life is marked by witness. The apostles are those sent, they do not bring anything of their own but become life, motion, journey, meeting, a way that brings life wherever they go.
v. 46. «So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. What is written? Where? The only scripture we know is that of encounter. It seems that God cannot do without humankind, and so God goes seeking people wherever they are and will not give up until God embraces them. This is what is written: An eternal love, capable of enduring suffering, of drinking the chalice of pain to its dregs, so as to look once more upon the face of the beloved children. In the depths of non-life, Christ descends to take the hand of humankind to lead humankind back home. Three days! Three moments: passion, death, resurrection! This is what is written for Christ and for all those who belong to him. Passion: you surrender trustingly, and the other does with you whatever he wishes, he embraces you or ill-treats you, he welcomes you or rejects you… but you go on loving to the end. Death: a life that cannot be taken back… dies, is snuffed out… but not forever, because death has power over the flesh but the spirit that comes from God goes back to God. Resurrection: Everything makes sense in the light of Life. Love once given will not die but will always resurrect again.
v. 47. And in his name, repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.Jesus’ word, spoken in time, does not come to an end. It needs those who proclaim it. The apostles go, sent in the holy name of God. They go to all nations. No longer to one chosen people, but to all who are now chosen. They go to put their arms around the shoulder of their brothers and sisters and to convert them, to turn them around towards them and to tell them: All is forgiven, you can live the divine life once more, Jesus died and rose again for you! Faith is not an invention. I come from Jerusalem, I saw him with my eyes, I experienced him in my life. I am telling you no more than my story, a story of salvation.
v. 48. You are witnesses to this. We know God from experience. To be witnesses means carrying the word that is Christ written in one’s skin, woven syllable by syllable. When one is touched by Christ, one becomes a bright lamp, even without one’s knowledge! And if one wanted to put out the flame, it would light up again, because the light comes not from the lamp but from the Spirit poured into the heart and beams eternal communion endlessly.
v. 49. And now I am sending upon you what the Father has promised. Stay in the city, then, until you are clothed with the power from on high». Jesus’ promises are always fulfilled. He goes away, but he does not leave his friends orphans. He knows that they need God’s constant presence. And God comes back to humankind. This time no longer in the flesh, but invisibly in the fire of an intangible love, in the ardour of a bond that will never be broken, the rainbow of the ratified covenant, the splendour of God’s smile, the Holy Spirit. Clothed in Christ and in the Holy Spirit, the apostles will not be afraid and can finally go!
v. 50. Then he took them out as far as the outskirts of Bethany, and raising his hands blessed them. The moment of separation is a solemn one. Bethany is the place of friendship. Jesus raises his hands and blesses his own. This is a salute and a gift. Goes does not draw away from his own, God simply leaves them to come back in different guise.
v. 51. Now as he blessed them, he withdrew from them and was carried up to heaven. Every separation brings sorrow with it. But in this case the blessing is a legacy of grace. The apostles live in such an intense communion with their Lord that they are not aware of a separation.
v. 52. They worshipped him and then went back to Jerusalem full of joy. Great is the joy of the apostles, the joy of going through the streets of Jerusalem with a limitless treasure, the joy of belonging. Christ’s humanity goes to heaven, to open a gate that will never be shut again. The joy of the superabundance of life that Christ has now poured into their experience will never cease…
v. 53. And they were continually in the Temple praising God. To stay… is a very important verb for the Christian. To stay presupposes a special strength, the ability not to flee from situations but to live them out savouring them to their depths. To stay: an evangelical programme to be shared with all. Then praise flows out sincerely, because in staying God’s will is sipped like a healthy and intoxicating drink of bliss.
The witness of charity in the life of the church is without any doubt the clearest mirror for evangelisation. It is the instrument that loosens the soil so that when the seed of the Word falls it may bear abundant fruit. The good news cannot choose other ways to touch the hearts of people than that of mutual love, an experience that leads directly to the source: «This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you» (Jn 15:12). We find all this in the early Church: «This is the proof of love, that he laid down his life for us, and we too ought to lay down our live for our brothers» (1 Jn 3:16). The disciple who met and knew Jesus, the beloved disciple, knows that he cannot speak of him and not walk the ways he walked. «I am the way, the truth and the life» (Jn 14:6). What better words can express that the high road of every evangelisation is gratuitous love? Christ is the way of evangelisation. Christ is the truth to transmit in evangelising. Christ is evangelised life. And the love with which he loved us is evangelisation, a love given without conditions, that will not retreat but goes forward to the end, faithful to itself even at the price of death on a cross of malediction, to show the face of the Father as one of Love, a love that respects the freedom of human beings, even when this means rejection, contempt, aggression and death. «Christian charity has a great evangelising force. To the extent that it reveals itself as a sign and a window of God’s love, it opens the minds and hearts to the proclamation of the Word of truth. As Paul VI said, today’s people who look for authenticity and concreteness, value witnesses more than teachers, and generally will only allow themselves to be guided to discover the depth and the demands of God’s love if they have been touched by the tangible sign of charity». (CEI, Evangelisation and the witness of charity, in Enchiridion CEI, vol. 1-5, EDB, Bologna 1996 n. 24). Every pastoral endeavour that wants to show the deep relationship between faith and charity in the light of the Gospel, and that characteristic note of Christian love that is proximity and caring, has the duty of motivating and sustaining openness to others in service. (cfr Lk 10:34).
Psalm 22, 22-31
I shall proclaim your name to my brothers,
praise you in full assembly:
'You who fear Yahweh, praise him!
All the race of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all the race of Israel!'
For he has not despised
nor disregarded the poverty of the poor,
has not turned away his face,
but has listened to the cry for help.
Of you is my praise in the thronged assembly,
I will perform my vows before all who fear him.
The poor will eat and be filled,
those who seek Yahweh will praise him,
'May your heart live for ever.'
The whole wide world will remember
and return to Yahweh,
all the families of nations bow down before him.
For to Yahweh, ruler of the nations,
belongs kingly power!
All who prosper on earth will bow before him,
all who go down to the dust will do reverence before him.
And those who are dead,
their descendants will serve him,
will proclaim his name to generations
still to come;
and these will tell of his saving justice to a people yet unborn:
he has fulfilled it.
Lord, I know that evangelisation requires deep spirituality, authenticity and holiness of life on the part of witnesses, people of mature faith, able to mix well so as to make their personal experience of faith a meeting place and a place of growth in interpersonal contacts thus building deep relationships open to the Church, the world and history. As yet, I feel inadequate. In a context where images, words, proposals, projects and records follow each other swiftly and disorient, almost intoxicate thought and confuse feelings, bearing witness is a privileged word for a reflective pause, for a moment of rethinking. But am I one who is carried away by these images, words and projects? Of one thing I am certain, and this comforts me. Even the most beautiful witness would in the long run be powerless were it not enlightened, justified, made explicit by a clear and unequivocal proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The Good News, proclaimed by a living witness, sooner or later needs to be proclaimed by the word of life. I will justify my hope by proclaiming your name, your teaching, your life, your promises, your mystery as Jesus of Nazareth and Son of God. This seems to me to be the simplest way to arouse interest in knowing and meeting you, Master and Lord, who have chosen to live as son of man so as to show us the face of the Father. Every pastoral endeavour today that finds itself chained by faith, will be able to ask you, God, that the gates of preaching be reopened to proclaim the mystery of Christ, the kind of preaching that as divine word works wonders in those who believe.