One of the things I really like about the Easter Season is that the First Reading for both the daily readings and the Sunday readings is from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is a wonderful complement to the Gospels. The Gospels portray the initial apostles and disciples and very ordinary people. They are easy for me to relate to. They are trying to do the right thing but they fall prey to the same human follies that I do: pride, excessive ego, fear, doubt, lack of gratitude and an inability to think big.
However, after the Resurrection for the Apostles or witnessing of the Risen Christ for St. Paul, everything changes. The first disciples have a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. Not for their own satisfaction, but for building the Kingdom of God in this world. Driven by a love of Christ, they joyfully endure many hardships in furtherance of this goal.
Today in many dioceses in the U.S., we celebrate the Ascension, which marks a transition point when Christ passes the baton to us to carry on his mission. This week’s reflection from Living Space (an outstanding site run by the Irish Jesuits) emphasizes the work God calls us to do:
“Before we go to share Jesus’ glory, there is work to be done. When Jesus left us, he made it clear that he wanted us to carry on the work he had begun. He said that we could do the same things he did and even greater. So before leaving them, he tells his disciples to go back to Jerusalem and there wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This experience will be their baptism when they will become filled with the very Spirit of Jesus. But before Jesus leaves them, his disciples ask him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Even at this late moment, they still do not understand the meaning of Jesus’ life and work. They still do not understand what kind of Messiah he is.
Jesus will not just restore the Kingdom of Israel; he will establish a new Kingdom altogether. This kingdom will be open to include all the people of the world. It will not be a political force or a military power. Rather, it will be – as the Preface of the Mass of Christ the King says,
An eternal and universal kingdom:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.
The disciples will soon learn this, accept it and promulgate it everywhere. For, after they receive the Spirit of Jesus themselves, they themselves will begin to inaugurate the Kingship of God not only in Israel, in Jerusalem and Judea but in time to the very ends of the earth. This is their mission – and ours: to carry the message of Jesus to the whole world.” (emphasis added)