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This Sunday's Programme

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Ascension Day B

Sunday 12th May 2024

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mk 16: 15-20

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said, ‘Go to all the world and proclaim the Good News to every creature. The person who believes and is baptised will be saved. The person who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be seen among believers when my name is invoked: devils will be cast out, people will speak in tongues, they will be safe in the midst of extraordinary danger, even when bitten by snakes or having drunk poison. By laying on hands, they will pray over the sick who will recover.’

And so after the Lord had said all this, he was taken up into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God. They went out preaching everywhere. The Lord worked through them confirming with signs the word they preached.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 46:2-3, 6-9

Clap your hands, O people!
shout to God with cries of joy!
God, the supreme one, we fear,
the great king of all the earth.

God ascends amidst cries of joy.
The Lord arises with blare of trumpets.
Sing praises to God, sing praises,
sing praises to our King, sing praises.

To God, king of all the earth,
sing praise with all your understanding.
God reigns over the nations.
God rules from his holy throne.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving Father, as Jesus ascends he sends us into the world to preach his Good News, promising us not only his Spirit but also to be with us himself. As we follow his command may we see his presence in all the places of our world: in our family and loved ones, in the poor and needy, in the beauty of creation, in our work and our play. May the Holy Spirit open our minds to the glory of Jesus’ presence in our midst. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

Today’s reading is part of what is known as the Longer Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Mk 16: 9-20). There are good reasons for believing that this was not part of the original gospel: its style and language differ from the Gospel proper, it is absent from the best manuscripts and it was unknown to two of the major early Church Fathers (Origen and Clement of Alexandria) who wrote Scriptural commentaries. It is conjectured that this ending was added as the Gospel had ended so abruptly, on a seemingly negative note (Mk 16:8). The full section reads like a summary of the Resurrection accounts from the other Gospels.

Still today’s reading has its own character. As in Matthew and in Acts, the disciples are told to go and preach to all the world. Here, they are also told to proclaim the Good News to all creation. The signs that are associated with this preaching include powers that would be regarded as exceptional within the normal run of creation: the ability to deal with the threat of snakes, the danger of poison, sickness in people, and the difficulties of foreign languages. What this adds up to is that the disciples have been given the power to deal with weakness, danger and even evil as it appears in human life. In the final section, while Jesus is presented as having ascended to the heavenly realm, the power that was revealed in him through his ministry is now given to his followers so that they, indeed we, can preach to all the world, indeed all creation.

 

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

What was Jesus thinking? Commanding this lot of disciples to preach his Good News to the world! Even with the coming power of the Holy Spirit, one could well question his wisdom? Why, he had personally taught them for years about the Kingdom of God, shown them signs of his power, mentored them in every way he could and, when the time came for his passing over, they couldn’t have failed more ignominiously– betrayal, denial, desertion. Even after experiencing his resurrection they still didn’t understand, as we see in the reading from Acts. Who in this lot could be trusted to do what he was commanding: go and preach to the world? In the Book of Acts, we see just how they began to do this – filled with the power of the Spirit. Still they were their own selves: occasionally missing the point, still making mistakes. In spite of that, they kept on trying….and here we are today believing and living by that message.

The command to preach the Good News is given to us, just as it was to them. I take great heart from this motley group of disciples – no better and no worse than many Christians I know, myself included. In our ongoing struggle to allow the life and love of Jesus to shine through our lives, our hope is, that with the gift of the Spirit we may actually do what has been commanded- offer the Good News to all the world. We just need to keep reminding ourselves that hope is a verb as well as a noun.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Where did Jesus go? The way we answer that question can close down our minds and imaginations or it can open us up to the greater mystery of God’s dealing with this created world. In the world view of his time, Jesus’ ascent into the clouds aligned with the current worldview of reality – above the heavens there was a super, divine realm to which he went. If we take it that way we would imagine Jesus tucked away in some corner of the Universe waiting for the Final Judgement when our bodies will be made like his. But as the resurrection accounts show, Jesus was physical, just not in the way we know it. I imagine that if Jesus’ ascension was filmed today he would withdraw, transfigure into an encompassing radiant energy field. Here – just not as we know it.

As Christians we believe that the Word of God became flesh in the person of Jesus, and that after his Resurrection, he remained who he was, human and divine but with a transformed humanity. This challenges us not just because we have limited experience of Jesus’ resurrected life but also because of our limited notions of what ‘physical’ is. One of the few constants in the history of physics is that when scientists think they have pretty well solved all the questions, something new is discovered which challenges their basic understanding.

So where did Jesus go? Certainly not away from us. Indeed, we believe he is with us in his Word and Eucharist, when we gather in prayer, indeed always to the end of time.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

– This is an image from  6th century Syriac manuscript, the Rabbula Gospels.

– This is an old Danish image of the Ascension of Christ.

– This sculpture at Bath, England shows Jesus breaking his bonds.  At this site, click on the image for a larger view.

– Ithell Colquhoun was a 20th century surrealist painter.  This painting gives a more modern image of Jesus’ ascension.

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

As you go through this week, mull on how you can fulfil Jesus’ command to preach the Good News to all creation.  Mull on how this can affect how you treat people in the simplest ways.  Notice also how it can affect your view of creation.  Ponder how the Good News can lead you to appreciate nature around you.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

When you are at rest, ponder on how you experience the presence of Jesus in your life. What aspects of your life, for example your relationships or creation, speak to you of his presence?

Jesus has promised to be with us at all times. In what part of your life do you feel he is absent? Can you bring that part to him and rest with him? Ask him how he would like to come there.

Rest in the love of your God.