You may be among those who remember the old time revival song, “Will the circle be unbroken?” I remember because I wondered what was meant by the “circle.” I later realized that it likely meant that something kept going on for what seemed forever.
Well, in a way we have a “circle” which is often referred to as the Liturgical Year. Annually, we are reminded of the life, death, resurrection, ascension of Jesus and of the continuity of his life and message.
The feast of the Ascension can serve as the midpoint between the life of Jesus on earth and the continuity of his message proclaimed by his disciples. The gospel of the the feast (Matthew 28:16-20) may help us summarize its significance.
First of all, the Liturgical Year. The year begins with the celebration of ADVENT/CHRISTMAS. The idea is that God becomes human in the person of Jesus Christ It is the “coming” (which is what Advent means) of Christ to earth. In fact, there was a Scriptural belief that some day IMMANUEL would come. (Isaiah 7:14) “Immanuel” is Hebrew for “God with us.” Consequently, the idea of “God with us” was a crucial part of the biblical expectation.
Next came the season of LENT/EASTER which was bringing to a finish the life/message of Jesus. His suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead manifested his power over life and death affirming the strength of his life’s message. The feast of the ASCENSION tends to become the midpoint between his coming from heaven (“God with us”) and returning there. But not before commissioning his disciple to carry on his message. This commissioning is contained in the day’s gospel.
What follows is the feast of PENTECOST which is the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples empowering them with the grace and fortitude to proclaim Jesus and his message to others. I prefer to think that a good translation of Holy Spirit is the “creative power of God” (Hebrew=ruah YHWH). For example, we see God’s power (ruah) as being creative. (Gen. 1:1)
Secondly, how is the above summarized in the Gospel for the Ascension? There are three concepts that are keys to this summary, namely, “mountain”, “commissioning,” and the “Immanuel promise.” (Matt. 28:16-20)
1)-“Mountain” is a frequent biblical image which reflects the union between heaven and earth. Something special was about to happen there, for example, Mt. Sinai, Sermon on the mount, the Transfiguration, Mt. Calvary. What is my “mountain” where I can encounter Jesus?
2)-“Commissioning” means carrying the work imposed on you. Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work of justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. Do I take my commissioning at my Baptism seriously?
3)-The “Immanuel promise” contains the notion that God is with us at all times. Does my example give credence and fulfillment to that promise?
Finally, these concepts of finding our “mountain” (encountering Jesus) and taking our “commissioning” seriously (maintaining our Baptismal promises) will help us fulfill the “Immanuel promise” (“God with us”) by means of our example. This seems to be a good way of keeping the circle (Liturgical Year) unbroken.