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Scripture Reflection, May 20: The Ascension of Jesus

Scripture Reflection, May 20: The Ascension of Jesus

Scripture Readings:

Acts 1: 1-11
Psalm 47
Ephesians 1: 17-23
Luke 24: 46-53

While reading over this Sunday’s scriptures that tell of the Ascension of Jesus, I could not help but think about the mixed emotions the disciples undoubtedly felt—joy that Jesus, the one they loved and who loved them, triumphed over death and adversity; hope for the future with Jesus’ eventual return; and anxiety about being without Jesus when key political and religious forces wanted to stop the spread of Jesus’ message. The disciples were probably wondering what they should do next and what their futures would hold.

Like the disciples, young adults today, and many generations of others, feel a similar insecurity and uncertainty about the future. It seems these are the enduring questions of time.

In recent weeks, I have had the chance to reconnect with two students I knew when I was working as a chaplain in residence at Georgetown. One is in medical school in Ohio and the other one is here in Chicago attending law school. Both have mentioned how much work is involved in the degree programs, and they have come to similar conclusions: intelligence is necessary, but sheer motivation and drive is absolutely essential to make it through their programs. Even though these two graduate students have little free time, they seem preoccupied with wondering how their current choices about careers will impact the future. My two friends didn’t use these exact terms, but I found that they are trying to balance what it means to be good community members and be of service to others with what will most benefit their careers and financial security in the long run.

Young adults in their twenties grew up with service-learning projects and required community service hours, so many want their efforts and choices to make a positive difference in this world. But our society sends two distinct messages, which can cause questioning young adults and others to pause: 1) Do something meaningful with your life and find ways to be of service, and 2) Look out for number one—no one else will take care of you. Although it is wise for all of us to take responsibility for others AND for ourselves, our society seems to be caught in a divisive bind over which is more important—caring for ourselves or others. The scriptures for the Ascension call us back to the immediacy of Jesus’ message of love and shed some light on the need to take care of our own needs and those of others.

Over the centuries since the resurrection of Jesus, we have lost the sense of Christ’s imminent return, though we continue to believe that Christ will bring about the fullness of the reign of God. When we hear doomsday preachers, most of us do not believe the second coming will happen in such a short time frame. With good reason, it has been over 2,000 years, and we have begun to understand Jesus’ message as applicable in any age. In one way, this understanding removes us from an intimacy with Jesus, though. We can put off developing our relationship with God because we can always keep that for another day. Doomsday preachers are motivated by such procrastination and have valid points. Essentially, they are reminding us that we need to change our ways now instead of waiting until tomorrow. They are challenging us to ready ourselves for the second coming by becoming less selfish in our thoughts, words and deeds and more compassionate towards others. Unfortunately for many doomsday preachers, their message seems to be full of fear and coercion and missing Jesus’ central message of love of self and others.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he prays that the community may be gifted with God’s wisdom. This prayer is just as applicable to us today as it was to the Ephesians centuries ago.

“Brothers and sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might: which he worked in Christ…”

This passage calls us back to the immediacy of Christ’s message but does it such a way that encourages us to develop a relationship with Christ. Paul’s words inspire us to find our purpose and direction and not to be afraid of the future and its uncertainties. Entering a relationship based on fear is not healthy, but one based on respect of our gifts and hopes for our contributions is liberating. It is by deepening our relationship with the ever-present Christ that we learn how to make good choices in our lives and to move into the future with a sense of freedom.

JoEllen Windau

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