On this Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, the first reading from Acts gives us the narrative of the risen Jesus ascending into heaven. The Gospel, however, relates some last instructions to his disciples immediately preceding that ascension.
These directions include a statement of fact: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me.”
Then Jesus tells them how they are to act after he leaves them: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Finally, he makes a promise: “behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
When Jesus makes the claim to power, he simply states a fact that has become obvious to his followers during the 40 days since his resurrection. Through multiple appearances he has shown them his power by wishing them peace, eating with them, consoling them in their sorrow and bestowing the Holy Spirit upon them.
This power comes from Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father in his Passion and death. At the moment of his ascension, he states this fact to reassure his followers that God has granted him total authority.
He continues with a twofold command for anyone who would follow him. His followers are to make disciples of all nations. The chosen people will no longer be only the descendants of Abraham but also anyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ.
As the Savior, he now urges his followers to take up the task he had assumed for himself when he was with them. Jesus’ followers are to spread the Gospel throughout the whole world.
They are to do this by baptizing the people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
It is common for us to think of baptism as a single sacramental event. It is more appropriate to think of baptism as an initiation into a total way of life. During the Easter season we often use the renewal of our baptism promises in place of the Creed. This reminds us we reject Satan and sin and affirm certain beliefs and actions in accord with the gospel.
Finally, Jesus promises that he will be with us always.
We do not see his bodily presence anymore, but we believe that he has never deceived us and will never betray us. With this firm knowledge, we can work out his two final commands to teach and to baptize into a new way of living.
Jesus’ final teaching for his disciples is merely a summation of the whole Gospel showing us how to be poor in spirit, meek, seek righteousness and compassion for the sorrowing. This teaching calls us to love God with our whole heart, soul and will, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. He is with us always to help us on our way.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.