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“And he said to them, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
And so the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven; there at the right hand of God he took his place, while they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it.”
Today we celebrate Ascension Day, although celebrate is perhaps not the correct term. After all, the Apostles had no reason to celebrate when their Teacher returned to His Father. After the sorrow of the Crucifixion, the joy of the countless appearances of Christ after His Resurrection, now there came a true ending of sorts. Now they had to go out alone or in small groups and spread the Gospel among all creation. Not a small task, even with the prospect of the Lord “working with them”. The Apostles, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, needed some time to come to terms with this new reality. They surely didn’t feel like celebrating.
But we do today. Maybe it’s easier for us, since the Lord remains with us in the same way that He has ever since our Baptism. Apart from the readings at Mass and the prayers of the day, we have no real sense of change in our life. Instead, we may renew our efforts to follow the commandment that Christ gave His disciples upon His Ascension: to go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel to all creation.
Today’s Gospel reading offers us some examples on how to do so, or rather: how the Lord helps us in doing so. There are signs which accompany the work of the Apostles, and which still accompany our work in the same way. Those sings can take all kinds of forms; it is not as if God is limited in His help. They need not always be great miracles (although they certainly can be – consider, for one, the miracle of the sun at Fatima), or even take place at the same time that a modern Apostle does his or her work.
Often, we only realise that God was with us, helping us, confirming our words and works, when we look back at the things that happened or that we, or someone else, did. A prayer answered, a chance encounter with someone new, a seemingly random set of occurrences, some words read out, a homily… the possibilities are endless. What these signs indicate is that Christ is still with us, and that He will always be with us on our way to our ultimate goal. And that is why we celebrate today.
Art credit: “He vanished from their sight,” by Harold Copping