Don’t just stand there – do something!

The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

On the 40th day after he rose from the dead, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  The Lord then ascended to heaven.  Liturgically, much of the Church will celebrate the Ascension of the Lord this coming Sunday, although some dioceses observe this Solemnity today.

The Ascension brings to a conclusion the earthly life of Jesus, but the New Testament presents this event not as an ending, but as a beginning. It is the concluding episode in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, but it is the opening  story in the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the early Church.  At the Ascension, Jesus tells his apostles that it is now their turn to live the life of Christ in the world. They know that it is an impossible task. But he reassures them, promising to send the Holy Spirit to live in them and act in them, to give them everything they need.

I love Saint Luke’s account of what happens next. While the apostles “were looking intently at the sky,” he says, “suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven’” (Acts 1:10-11).  The apostles are standing there, jaws dropping in amazement, and the angels tell them, in so many words: “Don’t just stand there – do something! You have your commission. Do what you’ve been told to do.”

Those words are addressed to you and to me. We have inherited the task of those first disciples. Why are we standing idle when we have so much to do? Each one of us can do something positive to manifest the kingdom of Christ – to make it visible and present in the world today. Each one of us can take on some aspect of spreading the kingdom of God, of bearing witness to what Jesus came to reveal. Some can teach. Some can give example. All of us can live the Christian message.

The Ascension is directed to us as a challenge.  We are commissioned to deliver the good news to the ends of the earth. That is most especially the role of the laity. The “end of the earth” is the place where you live. It’s the place where you work. It’s the place where you socialize and spend your leisure time.

Don’t just stand there, the angels tell us as we look up at heaven. Jesus has told us to do something. God wants to transform you and me by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then he wants us to live our faith and share it with others. In this way we help transform the world.