•Acts 1:1-11 • Ephesians 4:1-13 • Mark 16:15-20•
Scripture Readings: Seventh Sunday of Easter (Ascension)
Christ is risen! (Truly he is risen!) Gone away and, yet, still here with us. The Risen One has passed beyond our sight but not completely gone away. Beyond our sight, he remains with us. That is the somewhat contradictory message of what we commonly refer to as the Ascension.
Most scholars agree that Mark didn’t write the text we think of as the end of his gospel. The original ending was the simple statement that “the women went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Frightened inaction seems a feeble response from those who had been his closest companions.
That conclusion probably was uncomfortable for those reading Mark in the early Christian communities.
Perhaps some transcriber read the original ending and was shocked by the reaction or decided someone had goofed. So he or she summarized what some of the other gospels said and added the text to Mark. That new ending, proclaimed here today, passed the test of acceptability and today is known as the “canonical ending” of Mark.
There are two important elements in this “canonical ending” that I call to your attention. One is negative and one positive.
The negative element is the text that contains some rather bizarre statements about faith. “Faith” is set forth as an insurance policy against bodily harm from things like “picking up snakes,” and “drinking deadly poison.” These strange behaviors neither say nor add anything about “God’s new reality” of justice and peace breaking into the world. I join others and choose to ignore this.
The positive element is very significant and we cannot ignore it. Yet while we believe that Christ is risen! (Truly he is risen!), like our predecessors in the early Christian communities we ask, “what are we to do now that the Risen One is beyond our sight?”
“The Kingdom of God” — “God’s new reality” was the center and passion of the life and teaching of Jesus. He proclaimed a liberating vision of human existence, a vision of justice and peace breaking into the world. The Risen One lived out that vision, died for that vision, and God affirmed him by raising him from the state of death.
The phrase “God’s new reality” signifies the way the world and society should and would be if God’s intentions were respected. The phrase encapsulates the Risen One’s vision of reality depicting the way it should be, and is, and will be in God’s eyes. The message is universally relevant for humankind.
Over the millennium various social and political forces distorted or obscured that message.
We live in a privileged moment. Perhaps now in this first part of the 21st century, we finally are beginning to understand the message Jesus proclaimed. The knowledge now available to us from physics, psychology, evolutionary biology, cosmology and scripture research provide new insights into the meaning of “God’s new reality” that were never available to our ancestors.
Today — two thousand years later, we affirm Christ is risen! (Truly he is risen!) and celebrate the Lord’s Ascension. Like our ancestors, we acknowledge the Risen One has gone away, passed beyond our sight, and yet remains here with us! The mission of facilitating “God’s new reality” of justice and peace breaking into the world has shifted from Jesus to us!! Mark’s canonical ending offers assurance. If we are open to the Spirit of God, we will know what we are to do and will facilitate the emergence of “God’s new reality” into our world today. So don’t be distracted by the somewhat contradictory message of the Ascension. Christ is risen! (Truly he is risen!) — and while gone away, remains with us. His mission is now our mission and the pervasive, dynamic Spirit of God is guiding us.