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This Sunday is Ascension Sunday in most of the United States, and the Gospel is the Great Commission from Matthew.
You can go line-by-line through Jesus’ parting words and learn all you need to about the faith.
“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Christ here reaffirms that he is indeed divine, and makes a reference to the Trinity.
How can “All power in heaven and on earth” be his if he is not the one God? And how can it all be “given to him” if the one God is not also more than one?
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations …”
Not “Go therefore and lead a moral life,” as important as that is. Not, “Go therefore and build a community with other Christians,” though that, too, is important. Not, “Go therefore and critique the errors of your time with deadly precision.”
But “Go and widen this circle of faith to include those not now in it.” And “Make disciples” — lead people to adopt Jesus Christ as the model, center and acting principle of their life.
“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …”
Jesus doesn’t ask that we lead others to the Bible, as important as that is. He doesn’t ask that we lead people to give their lives to him in a moment of personal conviction.
He asks us to lead them to a sacrament: A communal act that transforms a particular individual through a particular formula.
He also asks that we lead them to the Trinity andnames the Divine Persons he has already obliquely referred to.
“… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
He doesn’t ask us to “teach them to be basically nice” or to “accept one of the myriad paths to God.” He asks them to follow all the expectations of the one way that his teachings represent.
“And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jesus here references the Eucharist. At Emmaus, he broke bread and then disappeared; here he says “I am with you always” and then disappears into the clouds.
On Ascension Thursday (Ascension Sunday for most of us), said New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, “We are not celebrating Jesus leaving us — what we are really celebrating is that He remains with us always!”
He won’t be absent from earth physically, but he will always be with us sacramentally until there is a new age — that age when he returns, just the way he left.