Probably all of us are able to picture the ascension of Jesus as it's described by Luke in our first lesson today. It's something that we've heard from the time we were very young and we, I'm sure, have seen many pictures showing the disciples standing around in a circle looking up and Jesus kind of floating up in the air out of their sight. But that's not the way it happened, I have to tell you this. It's very important that we take some time to understand what the gospel writers are doing, what Luke is doing in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the history of the early church, but also in the gospel, and the other gospel writers -- they are not giving us historical facts.
The Peace Pulpit
As I just mentioned to you, you have to be committed to wanting to be confirmed, so that’s why I ask that question: “Do you want to be confirmed?” When I ask you the question, I always look for a very clear and strong answer that you say with confidence, “Yes, I want to be confirmed.” Why is that so important? After all, you have prepared for a number of months for this moment and obviously if you didn’t want to be confirmed, you probably would have dropped out a long time ago.
This is the fifth Sunday of Easter, so now for the fifth time, we hear again and are asked to reflect upon the Easter truth: Jesus is alive. Jesus is alive and he's living in our midst, even at this very moment. That's what we've been hearing Sunday after Sunday. That Easter Sunday itself, the first women who went to the tomb were told, "He is alive, he is risen, he's no longer here." Well, it took those first disciples a long time to really begin to sort all of this out and to accept the reality that Jesus is alive.
As we try to listen deeply to God's word now during this liturgy, I think it's important to remind ourselves of what is happening during these weeks of Easter. We don't say it's the fourth Sunday after Easter; it's the fourth Sunday of Easter -- we're beginning the fourth week of the Easter time, the time of the risen Jesus. During this time, what the liturgy guides us in doing is trying to hear how the disciples came to understand Jesus. Think back to Easter Sunday, and if you remember, we listened to the gospel of Mark, and that gospel is rather unusual in the way it ends, because it's a very abrupt ending.
Probably most of us haven’t noticed the slight change in the way we designate the Sundays after the Feast of Easter. We used to talk about them as the Second Sunday after Easter, the Third Sunday after Easter and so on until we get to the seventh Sunday. But now it’s simply the Second Sunday of Easter that we celebrate today. It may not seem significant, but it is.
What we’re being taught is that this period of seven weeks, the 50 days after Easter, is a continuation of the one feast, the one event, this extraordinary, unbelievable almost, event: Jesus being raised from the dead and living among us. During this seven week period, the church is taking time to instruct us. So we must listen carefully each week to grow in our understanding.
I sense, as I’m sure you do, great excitement in the church this morning as we gather to celebrate this feast of Easter. We sing out with great joy, we clap, we rejoice, and that’s the way it should be, because we celebrate the most extraordinary event in all of human history -- a unique, one-time-only event. And even though we have the spirit of excitement and joy, I think that very often, we really do not reflect on how extraordinary it is, what we celebrate.
We begin this week the Fifth week of Lent, the beginning of the last two weeks of the season of prayer and penance. We refer to this time as the time of the Lord’s Passion. This is the first Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Next Sunday is the second Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, which we call Palm Sunday. During these two weeks, the readings draw our eyes to look on the crucified Jesus and to focus on what God is doing through Jesus, his death and his resurrection. And what God asks of us if we are to follow Jesus.
In a few moments when I return to the altar, I will proclaim the words of the Eucharist prayer, and I ask you to listen to the beginning words of that prayer right now, because they really express what God is trying to teach us through the lessons of today.
The words are: "Yes, God, you are holy. You are kind to us and to all. For this we thank you. We thank you above all for your son Jesus. You sent him into this world because people had turned away from you and no longer loved one another. Jesus opened our hearts and our eyes to understand that we are brothers and sisters and that you are the one God of us. Jesus brought us the good news of life to be lived with you forever in heaven, and he showed us the way of that life, the way of love."
If we listen very deeply to these readings today, we will have a deeper understanding and perhaps a greater commitment about what it means to enter into the season of Lent. As we approach the second half of Lent, we will be more sincere in our efforts to bring about deep and profound renewal in our hearts and our souls.
I know that we are celebrating a beautiful feast today, the Feast of St. Patrick, and all of us rejoice in our heritage as Irish descendents of that great disciple to the land of Ireland. I should join you. I have discovered that my own ancestors came from both the north in Derry and the south around the city of Cork.
The most important part of the scripture message for us this evening that I hope we will take away with us as we leave this church and go back out into our daily lives are those words that the disciples hear from God: "This is my beloved son. Listen to him. " Listen to him.
If only we would do that. All of us. Each of us. Listen to Jesus. Listen not only to his words but listen too by watching what he does, how he acts. He speaks through his actions too. But listen to him.