We must proclaim what we have seen and heard as Jesus’ witnesses
By Shawn Reeves
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord/May 8
Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47:2-3,6-7,8-9; Ephesians 1:17-23 or Hebrews 9:24-28; 10:19-23; Luke 24:46-53
For those of a certain age, images of kings and knights pervaded the literature and imaginations of our childhood. Popular cinema had been fascinated with the notion of the noble monarch, renewing interest in the tales of King David, King Arthur, and a host of medieval kings. And the images of the sacred moment of the king rising from his throne, laying his sword upon his servant, and announcing him a knight of the kingdom was a mainstay of childhood play: “Arise, Sir Lancelot of the realm!” A new identity and a new mission are declared. The king has made it so.
Perhaps, then, to those of such a generation the image of the king pronouncing a new mission and identity upon his freshly ordained knights whispers from behind this Sunday’s readings. Before the Lord ascends, it is a kingdom he again pronounces to his apostles in the first reading, the Kingdom of God.
But it is not a kingdom that should be seen too closely akin to any earthly kingdom. No, this kingdom is not merely the reestablishment of the earthly monarchy of Israel — it is a kingdom animated by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a kingdom whereby the servants of the king will find themselves given “a spirit of wisdom and revelation,” having been “baptized with the Holy Spirit,” and being “clothed with power from on high,” fulfilling the words, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” The Kingdom of God shall be a kingdom dominated by the influence of the Holy Spirit.
KINGDOM OF WITNESSES
But it is also a kingdom of witnesses. A king, a good king at least, is heralded by his people, lauded and celebrated. His tales travel from one land to the next, moved along by the joy and love his people have for him. They tell of what their king has done for them, what he has provided, what evils he has conquered, what healing he has brought to the land. And their witness spreads at home and abroad. And so it is no odd thing that Jesus, before ascending to the Father, entrusts to his apostles the obligation of witness.
In the original Greek, this term depicts one who has seen or experienced extraordinary things and then goes about testifying to its authenticity, announcing and affirming the glory of what was observed. “You will be my witnesses,” he tells them in the first reading. In the Gospel, he says, “You are witnesses of these things.” His kingdom is not only a kingdom animated by the Holy Spirit. It is also a kingdom of witnesses.
And this is precisely why he announces, “Behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you,” the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who will empower their witness. It is the Holy Spirit who will give them the wisdom to witness to Christ’s deeds and words. It is the Holy Spirit who will grant them revelation of the meaning and glory of our Lord’s ascension. The Holy Spirit will be the living instrument of their witnessing office, the divine companion and source of their witnessing impulse.
But first the King must ascend to his throne. He must be “seat[ed] . . . in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named.” He must rise above all that is below him and confirm his rule over all. He must robe himself in glory and ready his sword for his servant’s shoulder, declaring the royal pronouncement from on high: “Arise with the power of the Holy Spirit. Receive your new identity. Now you are witness of my realm, the Kingdom of God.” The King has made it so.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.