Scripture reflection for May 12, 2024, Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:1-11

Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9

Eph 1:17-23 or Eph 4:1-13 or 4:1-7, 11-13

Mk 16:15-20

This is a Sunday of beginnings and endings. We hear the very first words of the Acts of the Apostles -- and then, moments later, the last words of the Gospel according to Mark.

Both focus on the Ascension -- a moment that ties together two remarkable parts of our salvation, marking the end of Christ's earthly ministry but the beginning of an epic adventure that will change the course of history.

And it starts with just one word: "Go."

This is what it's all about.

What we hear in Mark's Gospel is nothing less than Jesus giving the first Christians their marching orders.

"Go into the whole world," he told them, "and proclaim the gospel to every creature." He urged them to baptize, to teach, to carry on the work that he had begun. The world is waiting. Act on what I have taught you, Jesus said. Put it into practice. Go!

If that weren't enough, the account in the first reading, from Acts, offers another challenge -- to the disciples and, importantly, to us.

After his followers watched Jesus disappear into the clouds, two men appeared and asked a question: "Why are you standing there looking at the sky?"

The apostles didn't have a ready answer. But that question hangs in the air and seems to be asking, really: what are you waiting for? Get going. (I don't think it's an accident that there are two men carrying this message. Scripture tells us elsewhere of how Jesus sent the apostles into the world as missionaries two-by-two. As much as these two were telling apostles what to do, I think they were also reminding them how to do it.)

The followers of Christ were not supposed to spend their time staring at the clouds. There was a world waiting to hear the Good News. So, the apostles left the mountain, went into the city, and days later launched the greatest missionary undertaking in human history -- one that has never ended.

And it started with just one word. "Go."

Go! Transform the world. Preach the Gospel. Leave the world you know. Put out into the deep! Baptize. Heal. Carry out this abiding mission of love.

Or, as the familiar dismissal puts it at the end of Mass, "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord with your life."

Do we understand what that means?

Paul's letter to the Ephesians -- one of the options for this Sunday -- puts it eloquently: "Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received," he wrote, "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace."

The disciples did that. Next Sunday, we celebrate the moment they began to answer Christ's command, with hearts blazing on Pentecost.

But it begs the question: what about us?

How will we heed Christ's order to "go?" How will we carry out our great commission? Two thousand years after Christ returned to his Father, and his followers stood on a mountaintop staring into the clouds, so much of the world is still waiting to hear the Good News -- to truly understand Christ's message of hope, redemption and resurrection, to grasp what it really means to call oneself "Christian."

How will we make that known to those we meet this week?

Dorothy Day -- a modern-day disciple who lived out Christ's call with selfless abandon and compassion for the poorest of the poor -- once wrote: "Our faith is stronger than death, our philosophy is firmer than flesh, and the spread of the Kingdom of God upon the earth is more sublime and more compelling."

The message of the Ascension, I think, is very simple: do not stay too long on the mountain, looking up. Instead, look around. Look at what lies before you.

Get ready. There is work to do. Go!

What Dorothy Day called "The Kingdom of God upon the earth" needs to be built. The Ascension, we realize, was just the beginning.

The rest is up to us.

- Deacon Greg Kandra is an award-winning author and journalist, and creator of the blog, "The Deacon's Bench."