Reflection Ascension of the Lord
Reflection on the Gospel-Feast of the Ascension Year B (16 May 2021)
-Veronica Lawson RSM
The feast of the Ascension invites us to face the universal experience of loss, the loss of a loved one or of something precious to us, and to face this experience in a transformative way. In Ordinary Time, we celebrate the life and ministry of Jesus. Over the period of Lent and Easter, we have been re-membering his death and resurrection. The liturgy now draws us into another aspect of the Mystery, that of the presence and absence of the One who has been raised. The physical loss of Jesus means a new and different sort of presence. Like the early Christians, we need time to grasp each dimension of the one great Mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, time to ponder the implications of this great Mystery for us and for our planetary home.
Today’s gospel passage receives little attention in commentaries and classes because, along with the immediately preceding passage (Mark 16:9-14), it is a late addition to the original text of Mark’s gospel. The author of these verses is familiar with the similar commission to proclaim the good news to all nations and to baptise in the name of the Trinity, found at the end of Matthew’s gospel. In Mark 16:15, the command is to go “into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation (ktisis).” It is a more inclusive vision than Matthew’s and opens a space for an ecological reading of the text, an extension from the human to the other-than and more-than-human elements of the Earth community. The command to proclaim the good news, the gospel, recalls the first words of the Markan Jesus, “The time is fulfilled, and the kin-dom of God has come near; repent [=expand your horizons], and believe in the good news” (1:15).
If we were to accept that our mission in the “in-between times” is to bring the gospel to all creation, then we might take more seriously God’s command in Genesis 2 to reverence and protect the earth (usually translated as “to till and to keep”). We might stop polluting the air that all creatures need for life. We might also read the affirmations of Genesis 1 through the lens of Mark 16 and respect once more the intrinsic goodness of all creation as a gospel imperative.
The “Ascension” event recounted towards the end of the passage presupposes a pre-scientific, three-tiered understanding of the structure of the cosmos. In this ancient view, God is in the heavens above and Jesus is caught up into God’s realm. The vertical movement is balanced by a horizontal movement: Jesus’ return to “the right hand of God” ensures a different kind of presence in the church despite his seeming absence, one that enables believers to stop “looking up to the heavens” (Acts 1:11) and to continue the healing and re-creative ministry of Jesus “to all creation”.