Sunday Scripture readings for May 21, 2023, The Ascension of the Lord
Acts: 1:1-11 Ps 47:2-3,6-7, 8-9 Eph 1:17-23 Mt 28:16-20
Respond to Jesus’ invitation to be his missionary disciples in the world
The making of promises is part of special celebrations that mark the days and weeks of spring and the Easter season. As we celebrate graduations, ordinations, weddings, baptisms, and first Communions, we hear and witness our friends and loved ones making promises to God, to persons, and to the church. And as we listen to these promises, we are reminded of the many promises, small and big, we have made in the presence of family and friends. The promises we make shape the direction of our lives. Most importantly, our promises give us a place within the great and loving promises of God.
As the church celebrates the Ascension of the Lord, we read from the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, where Luke recounts Jesus’ instructions to his disciples — that they wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
What an astonishing promise that must have been for the disciples to hear and to understand! For Jesus is promising the gift and the power of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity who is the love of the Father and the Son, given as the soul of the evangelizing church and the source of divine life within every believer.
Saint Paul echoes this promise of Jesus as he prays for the Christian community with these words, “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.”
We are reminded that promises we make to God are our humble response to the divine promises that God makes to the church and to each one of us personally. Our promises are taken up in the promises of God to love us and to remain with us always.
In the Gospel, Jesus gives his “great commission” to the disciples and to the church when he said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
This call of Jesus is the reason for the church’s existence. As St. Pope Paul VI said the church “exists in order to evangelize” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14). That is, the church exists to witness to the world the good news of faith in Jesus Christ as the answer to the question that resides within, and is, every human person. And as Jesus sends his disciples out to baptize and to teach in his name, he makes a divine promise that surpasses all human promises. For Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
We have the promise of the Holy Spirit, and we have the assurance that until the end of time Jesus is with us, drawing close and walking with us as he did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now we only have to respond to Jesus’ invitation to be his witnesses in our words and deeds so that we become his missionary disciples in the world. For the gift of Jesus’ promises to be with us and to send the Holy Spirit, we pray with joyful faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
Question: How do you respond to Jesus’ call to go make disciples of all nations?
Jem Sullivan holds a doctorate in religious education and is an associate professor of Catechetics in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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