I saw a meme just before Easter which said “this the lentiest Lent I ever lented” - something we can all relate to from the shutdown, social distancing, and separation from the sacraments. While we’re near the end of Easter, it like it never really started, but instead, Lent just kept on going. Still, there’s some truth in there, while Lent definitely came to an end, and Easter certainly started, the time between the resurrection and the ascension is the same length as Lent - 40 days - reminding us that this is a time of pilgrimage and preparation for what’s still to come.
This also explains why the gospel writers say so little about the ascension. What we hear in today’s gospel from Matthew is all he says, Mark and John also say nothing while Luke mentions it only in passing. The reason is because the story doesn’t end there but keeps on going; Easter is not about endings but about beginnings, and the ascension isn’t the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning.
So, although the ascension marks the end of Jesus earthly mission, it’s also the beginning of our mission. Like the disciples, we’re given the Great Commission; to go make disciples of all nations, to baptize, and teach them to observe the commandments. The first word, “go”, is the most important; we cannot continue Christ’s mission, we cannot continue the story, unless we’re willing to go out, to engage with the world, meeting people where they are at but not leaving them there. Granted that’s no easy ask; the world is indifferent at best and hostile at worst, but the Great Commission is not a suggestion to be considered but a command to be obeyed.
To do this we’re given the gift of the Holy Spirit, as promised in last week’s gospel, to be our helper and guide, our advocate. More than this, Christ also gives us the gift of himself; his solemn promise to be with us always fulfills not just his assurance that we will not be left orphaned, but all his promises. In us, the Church, the people of God, the invisible is made visible; Christ though taken from our sight, becomes present.
Our duty as disciples is to be Christ all we encounter - not just repeating his words but living and proclaiming them, continuing his story by making it our story, part of who we are. This story, the mystery of our faith, is not part of the past but the present and the future too, a lived reality in the here and now; a story of hope that never ends but continues to be told, to be shared, and to unfold through our lives.
It reminds us that this life is not all that there is, we’re promised something far greater - a share in Christ’s divine life, called follow where he has gone, to become like him who became like us. We remember this each time we celebrate mass, but also remember the Great Commission - to not just hear the gospel but proclaim it; sent out to share the story of our faith, the story of our lives, the story of Christ.
This story is our story because our baptism makes us part of Christ, with the journey we follow, the Commission we’re commanded to fulfill enabling us to draw closer to him; who waits for us, who is always with us, our joy, our hope, our glory.