Being Lifted Up With Christ By Serving With Christ

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

 

 

May 13th, 2018 Ascension of the Lord and 7th Sunday of Easter

Gospel of Mark 16:15-20 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” So, then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.

Meditation Reflection:

Today as a Church we remember Christ’s Ascension into Heaven when He returned to His rightful glory.  Jesus our king had left the comfort and majesty of His throne, to battle sin and death for His subjects, which could only be accomplished as one of us.  He entered the war zone at the Incarnation. The Son of God Who is infinite in His divinity accepted the burden of the limitations our human nature.  In addition, as if human kingship wouldn’t already be a far cry from His experience as Divine king, He chose instead the most difficult circumstances in human society – poverty and social rejection.

Our king is someone Who walks among His people, rolls up His sleeves and works side by side with us in our most difficult struggles.  He doesn’t stand aloof but rather He invites us into His own glory.  When He became our Brother by human nature, He raised us to His brothers and sisters in His divinity.  Though we do not become God, we do participate in His divinity and our nature is elevated above its usual limitations.  How?  After His Ascension Jesus sent His Spirit Who dwells in the souls of all the baptized and enables them to share in the work of Christ and become His Mystical Body.

In addition to opening the gates of Heaven for us, Jesus modelled the way.  His glory began with His self-emptying (the fancy theological word for it is kenosis) and so our final glory requires this same emptying of self, service of others, and humble obedience to the Father’s will. St. Paul describes it beautifully in his letter to the Philippians:

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.

 Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Philippians 2:1-11 NAB

Jesus took on the hardest and lowest jobs.  He was born in a barn, lived as a refugee in Egypt for the first years of His life, grew up with manual labor as His “career”, and walked wherever He travelled.  During the three years of His public ministry He faced rejection by His own townspeople who tried to throw Him off a cliff, the Pharisees and Sadducees plotted against Him even though He is the Word of God they supposedly protected, His own friends betrayed Him, and He died with an unjust conviction under false claims in the most humiliating and torturous way the Romans had contrived – naked on a Cross.  The night before His death, He prepared His apostles to reign in His stead by washing their feet – the most disgusting task which would traditionally be assigned to whomever was lowest on the totem pole – of the servants the slaves and of the slaves the foreign slaves.

So, who wants to reign with Christ? Doesn’t this sound fun?! If Christ’s life ended on the Cross, then NO.  Absolutely Not!  But it didn’t.  Because He humbled Himself, the Father exalted Him above every name and at His Name, every knee should bend.  Jesus rose from the dead and 40 days later He ascended to unmatched glory in Heaven.  He assures us that if we follow Him, the way will be hard, but it will culminate in unending joy.

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23: 11-12 NAB

Christian disciples share in the mystery of Jesus’ Royal Poverty.  Rather than looking side to side to see what everyone else is doing, we look up and down – up to Christ in glory and to His will, and down to where we might humbly serve.  If we keep our glance up and down, down and up, we will discover harmony within the tension of humble service and risen glory – the royal poverty that can only be found by abiding in the One who accomplished it – Jesus Christ.

So, let us wait in eager anticipation for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (next Sunday).  He empowers us to serve and to reign, to obey and to be glorified.  He empowers us to love.  Love puts the beloved before oneself, and experiences joy at every sacrifice.  The Holy Spirit is the love of the Father and Son, and He pours their love into our hearts with such generosity that as it overflows all selfishness and pride pours over the edges with it.  The deepest happiness is love – both given and received.  We have received the greatest of loves from Christ our Lord and Brother and His Spirit gifts us with the same love for Christ and our fellow brothers and sisters in Him.

Consider:

  • Meditate on the love of Christ who desired to become your Brother.  What does it mean to be a brother? What does it mean to be His brother or sister in return?
  • Today is Mother’s Day.  Consider the Christ-like love of motherhood: sacrifice of one’s bodily comfort, unconditional and personal love, the acceptance of humble tasks like changing diapers, the intercession for her children with relentless prayers. Consider your own mother’s love expressed in humble service toward you.  Offer a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing for her.
  • Ask Christ how you might empty yourself more.  To what are you still attached? What holds you back from following Him?  What task feels too low to take up, or what feels too good to give up?
  • Pray for greater faith and hope.  Humbling ourselves is a tremendous risk.  We live in a competitive culture of self-assertion.  If we don’t exalt ourselves, we will be overrun if God doesn’t exalt us.  Pray for the grace to step out in faith that we need only humble ourselves, and God will take care of the exalting.
  • How much do you look side to side – comparing yourself to others or the standards of the world?  How might you look up and down more in those situations?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week acknowledge someone’s humble, loving service and thank them.
  • Each day look up in prayer, then down for an opportunity to serve, then offer that service back up to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise or intercession for someone.  Try to do it in the morning, midday, and evening.  Even every hour if you can.

Related Posts:

 

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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The Ascension of Christ & the Surprising Nature of the Kingdom of God

by Angela Lambert

May 28th, 2017; The Ascension of the Lord

 Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But 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.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, 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.”

Meditation Reflection:

Christ is so humble in His Incarnation that we, like the apostles in today’s passage, can forget the awesome reality of His divinity.  For most of His earthly life, Jesus chose to veil His divinity.   He humbly lived among us as one of us, choosing a life of poverty and sacrifice.  Even when condemned to crucifixion, He told Pilate that He was not powerless in the situation (John 18:36).  Jesus chose to be sacrificed to save us.  He could have saved Himself, as those taunting Him urged, or defended Himself as Pilate suggested, but love kept Him on the Cross.

Christ came down from heaven to be a ransom for our sins.  At the completion of His mission however, He ascended back to heaven to reign in glory as the Son of God. Because of His humility during His earthly life, we overlook at times His divine dignity and His rightful place in Heaven.  Beyond anything we could have imagined, He promised to prepare a place for us there as well!

Jesus kept surprising His apostles and He continues to surprise us.  They imagined the savior as someone who would overpower their persecutors and restore things to how they used to be during the best time in Jewish history.  It took a while for them to accept that He would die and rise again.  Confused and scattered at His crucifixion, they rejoiced in awe at His resurrection.  Overwhelmed with joy that Christ was alive, and excited by His show of power they still imagined that they would enjoy the booty of His victory in an earthly kingdom.  Finally, they thought, now He will bring to fruition all our hopes and desires.  Thus, they ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Jesus did not come to stay on earth however, but to bring us back to Heaven.  He does not put new wine into old wine skins (Matthew 9:14-17).  His kingdom exceeds our imagination.  The experience the Jews had under King David provided a foretaste and glimpse of the kingdom of God.  Jesus reveals that God has much more in store for us.

In order for them to receive the Holy Spirit and to begin their new life in Christ, they had to let go of their previous hopes and plans.  To rule in the Kingdom of God meant to surrender worldly power for the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit which transforms lives with saving grace, Truth, peace, and love.    No other nation or religion has had the same universal, enduring, transformative effect, of the Christian faith.    The only explanation for this miracle is the Holy Spirit.

Jesus makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).  As we celebrate the Ascension of Christ into heaven, we let go of our desires for Jesus to make things how they used to be, or how we wish them to be.  Christ’s physical absence grieved the apostles and we too can be grieved by the absence of tangible comfort and security.  However, by letting Jesus ascend to Heaven, they received Him back even more intimately and powerfully in their very souls on Pentecost when they received the Holy Spirit.

Christian discipleship means sharing in Christ’s death that we might also share in His resurrection.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Discipleship means accepting the unanticipated, unimaginable “new” that Jesus has for us.  He wants so much more for us than we can plan and blesses us with so much more than we deserve.  By surrendering our grip on control in our Christian walk, we get to live in the freedom of gift.  There are no words to describe this freedom and joy other than surprise; or as John puts it: “From His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16).

Consider:

  • When has God surprised you?  How have His plans for your life exceeded your own expectations?
  • In what areas of your life do you struggle to surrender control?  Consider what underlies your resistance.  Is it fear of the unknown or of change, distrust, lack of faith, perfectionism, pride and the desire to accomplish things yourself, or vanity and concern for what others will think?
  • Reflect on your life from the point of view of the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of earth.  Re-value wealth and status from this perspective.  What is truly valuable?  What is true greatness?
  • Consider God’s love for you.  He has prepared a place for you, provided the Way, opened the gates, and given you the Holy Spirit and the Church to guide you and empower you.  He has done everything in His mighty power to be with you and shower His love upon you.   What can you do to be with Him and love Him in return?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Each day this week, be open to God’s surprises.  In the morning, offer your day to God and surrender control to Him.  In the evening, reflect back on the day and recount when you were resistant or when He surprised you.

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

Related Posts:

Longing for Nearness to the One We Love…Scripture Meditation for the Solemnity of the Ascension

Behold, I Make All Things New

The Spiritual Merry-Go-Round

 

Longing For Nearness to the One We Love…Scripture Meditation for the Solemnity of the Ascension of Christ

by Angela Lambert

laudario_ascension_detail_sm

May 8th, 2016; Feast of the Ascension

A reading from Acts of the Apostles 1:1-11 (NAB)

In the first book, Theophilus, I dealt with all that Jesus did and taught until the day he was taken up, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. He presented himself alive to them by many proofs after he had suffered, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While meeting with them, he enjoined them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But 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.” When he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight. While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, 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.”

 Meditation Reflection:

Jesus spent forty days with the apostles before ascending to Heaven.  During that time He proved He wasn’t a hallucination or a ghost.  He ate with them, spoke with them, embraced them, and even let Thomas put his finger in the wound mark in His side.  Having finished preparing the apostles to lead on earth, Christ ascended to reign in glory by the Father’s right hand in Heaven.  The apostles were left staring at the sky wondering what to do next.  Christ gave them instructions to wait and promised to send the Holy Spirit who would teach them all they needed and so God could dwell not merely with them as He had been the last few years, but within them.  Two angels appear assuring them Christ would return and the apostles then waited in hope and longing.

The twelve experienced a tension every Christian in love with Christ faces.  They belonged to two worlds – their hearts remained with Christ but their bodies remained on earth.  Christians are not dualists however.  Christ remained present in a real and substantial way with His Church and His followers dwell with Him in Heaven even while on this earthly sojourn just in an incomplete way.  St. Augustine expressed this beautifully in a sermon that is read today in the Office of Readings:

For just as He remained with us even after His ascension, so too we are already in heaven with Him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.  Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but He still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of His body have to bear…Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with Him in heaven even now, through faith, hope, and love that unites us to Him?  While in heaven He is also with us; and we while on earth are with Him.”  St. Augustine – sermon; office of readings for the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord

Christ didn’t abandon us when He ascended but rather He enabled Himself to be even closer to us.  Through the indwelling of the Trinity, made possible through Baptism by the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, He is no longer limited by space and time as He was when He walked the earth.  During His public ministry, Christ often longed to stay at a place and continue His work, but had to move on to bring the Gospel to other.  Now, reigning in Heaven and dwelling in His followers, He can be nearer to us than ever.  Suffering with us, comforting us, rejoicing with us.

Moreover, St. Paul teaches that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ with Christ as the head and His members as His body.  As a result we truly experience the grace and love of the Lord run through our veins and He experiences our joys and sufferings as well.  Every member of the body matters and every pain is endured by the whole body.  Stub a toe or break even a finger and everything seems to be affected.  Moreover, it seems as though when we have pain our brain can barely see past it without intentional effort.  Paul knew this reality intimately since Christ personally accused Paul of persecuting Him when he was persecuting the Christians.  In the same way, the health of the mind and the health of the body have a positive effect on all the members.  Making time to simply eat right, exercise some, get rest, and feed the mind energizes the whole person.

It may feel like a huge chasm between earth and heaven, but the only canyon separating the two is sin.  Because of Christ’s Paschal Mystery which merited Redemption for us, every person who seeks Him can find Him and everyone who wishes to remain in Him can do so through membership in His Mystical Body.  The sacraments provide a real and substantial connection between heaven and earth, the invisible and the visible, the perfect and the trainees.

Even the smallest separation can be intensely painful however depending upon the degree of love.  For instance, the more Teresa of Avila experienced union with Christ, despite having extraordinary gifts of rapture and brief moments of spiritual ecstasy, the more painful it became to endure everyday life without the intimate vision of the Lord.  Many saints speak of the same longing and even viewed death as a gift, their marriage to the Lord being fulfilled by crossing the threshold of their home together.

Our union with Christ will be fulfilled in heaven but it begins now.  We can be with Him as much as we allow Him to dwell within us and as much as we seek Him out in prayer and Sacraments.  Moreover, in this Year of Mercy, we are reminded that “whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto Me.”  Mother Teresa sought the Lord she loved in the poorest of the poor.  If you miss Christ and want to be near Him, you will find Him dwelling within you and in the poor around you, even those in your own home or workplace.

Consider:

  •  In what ways do you experience the beginning of heaven here on earth? (Remember heaven is union with God, joy and peace in His presence, enjoying the fellowship of loved ones…)
  • In what ways is heaven still distant?
  • Have you ever experienced the bittersweet pain of being physically apart from someone you love for a time? How did that distance deepen your relationship?  How did it feel when it was over and you could be together?
    • Consider your relationship with Christ in the same way. You can talk, relate, and love each other, but there remains a longing for being together in both body and spirit and being able to see each other.
    • Consider how the sacraments provide a real experience of heaven touching earth, of physically being near to the one you love.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Spend time with Christ in prayer each day or at daily Mass.
  • Intentionally look for Christ in those around you. Seek His face in the poor (especially the spiritually poor).  Do one act of love and kindness toward Christ through one of His members.
  • Each day begin by recalling: “This isn’t heaven. I have to wait.  But the more Christ dwells in me, the more heavenly this earth will be.”

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.