This Sunday is the Feast of the Ascension, where we celebrate Jesus rising bodily to return to God. In a sense, it is the culmination of the Easter celebration. We are told of Jesus on his way to being reunited with God and can trust that we, too, will experience this same communion with God because we have been united with Christ through our baptism. But what interests me more than the description of the ascension that comes at the end of this week’s Gospel (Mark 16:15-20) is the commission that comes at the beginning.
At the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus speaks to his disciples, the last time he will speak to them before ascending to be with God. Jesus instructs them: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” This passage is a parallel with the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16-20, in which Jesus commands his disciples to go out and baptize people from all nations. These passages carry a lot of weight in the Christian tradition because they are the last recorded instructions from Jesus to his followers.
So what does it mean to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation? The first thing that always comes to my mind when I hear this instruction is that I am supposed to verbally share the good news of Jesus Christ with others in my life. That might mean telling people how I trust in God’s promise to be with us or how I believe that evil has no power in the face of the love of God. But as I have written about before in this blog, I tend to be a little shy when it comes to verbally expressing my faith. I know some people are good about shouting their love for God from the rooftops (or as is more accurate in our times, from their Facebook and Twitter accounts), but this does not seem to be one of the gifts of the Spirit that has been bestowed upon me.
There are two ways I get around this shyness in order to live into the commission Jesus gives to preach the Gospel to the whole of creation. The first thing I do is replace the word “preach” with the word “live,” so that what Jesus is directing us to do is to “live the Gospel to the whole of creation.” This makes it seem a little less intimidating to me. Plus they say actions speak louder than words, so I figure that living the Gospel might be even more effective than preaching it. By “living the Gospel,” I mean things like:
• Taking seriously Jesus’ solidarity with the poor and the marginalized and organizing my life so that I can also demonstrate a preferential option for the poor and suffering.
• Reflecting the love God has for me back to others by striving to love those I encounter and to treat them with the respect and empathy that is due all persons as sons and daughters of God and sisters and brothers in Christ.
• Finding ways to live with peace and hope, even when the world around me demonstrates so much violence and pessimism.
The second thing I do is to take seriously the wording at the end of this commission: to preach the Gospel to the whole of creation. All too often we think only of preaching/living the Gospel with other people, but that leaves out a major part of God’s creation, namely, plants and animals, the other living things that share the planet with us. It may seem a bit weird to think about preaching the Gospel to plants and animals, but we can live the Gospel in relation to them. For instance, we can live the Gospel in relation to all of creation by trying to reduce our carbon footprint, as Spirit suggested a few weeks ago in celebration of Earth Day. At my house, we are getting ready to re-landscape our yard. In the process, we are designing a place for composting, so we can reduce the trash we throw out that will end up in a landfill, and are adding a rain barrel, so that we can use rain water to water our plants and thus reduce our water usage. These are relatively simple things that demonstrate a desire to live in a respectful relationship to the world around us.
As you prepare to celebrate Ascension Sunday, consider what you can do to live the Gospel and to do so in relationship with all of creation.
Photo courtesy of Eustaquio Santimano via Creative Commons License