The Spirit’s edge
Today’s readings: Acts 1, 1-11; Ephesians 1, 17-23; Mark 16, 15-20.
The poet T.S. Eliot suggested that the end of all exploring was to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.
To the last moment, as long as Jesus was still with them, the Apostles and the first disciples risked being witnesses to a big fiasco. It all started with the claim that “The kingdom of God is at hand”, and the other consistent claim that Jesus was the Messiah. But now here they were, Jesus leaving them without apparently there being any kingdom inaugurated.
For many around them they were simply being left empty-handed. That constituted a major problem of credibility for the first Christian communities: how to substantiate their claims regarding Jesus when he was no longer there.
Theologically, the Christian community itself was called to recompose here on earth the body of Christ through concrete witness, and to give witness to the proposed alternative meant to materialise God’s kingdom.
That was the challenge. This is still the challenge for present-day Christianity which is also called to substantiate its claims regarding Jesus and the possibility or promise of establishing God’s kingdom here on earth.
For so long perhaps, we thought the kingdom of God was to be perceived or given shape through the Church’s presence in society, a Church that was powerful and influential in a culture which itself was inspired largely by Christian values.
Now, in the wake of a radically changed position of the Church and of religion in society and in the lives of people, we are called to unlearn much of what we took for granted and face the times we are living in with a different and more positive and creative attitude.
We cannot afford to remain imprisoned in our old frames of mind, as if things are going to start falling into place automatically just in front of our eyes.
This is what apparently the Apostles were expecting to see. To the last minute they were expecting the unpredictable, a sudden change of direction, an instantaneous or miraculous turn to confirm in the eyes of all the sceptic onlookers that Jesus meant business. This did not happen.
What happened instead was yet another promise “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” to be my witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth.
So Jesus left everything in their hands. They were to complete what he had started.
It was the Church in time, the disciples of Jesus to come, who were called to give shape to all that Jesus meant to do. The Ascension completes the mission of Jesus but marks the beginning of a new time.
That new time is the time of the Spirit and it is co-extensive with the time and mission of the Church.
Our challenge is to keep the Jesus story alive not just for its own sake but because it is that story that can ultimately give real shape to the world as it is now. This is the core of our belief which needs to be translated in terms that are relevant and meaningful to the existential dilemmas of a world in crisis and in need of salvation.
The two major temptations of those who believe have always led to two extremes where the understanding and implications of Christian faith are concerned: on the one hand, escapism, fleeing the world considered as in itself a hindrance to the experience of God; on the other hand, the other extreme of escapism can be impatience, imagining and wanting things to happen here and now almost miraculously.
Today’s readings invite us to go beyond these two extremes and to open up to “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” which corrects our distortions and empowers us so that the word that we convey continues to be confirmed by the signs that substantiate it.