Acts 1:3
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.
We hear again the number forty. The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert. Jesus spent forty days in the desert after he was baptized.
But these days, from Easter to the Ascension, are not filled with any kind of penitential purpose. The forty years the Israelites spent in the desert were because of their hard heartedness and rebellion against God and Moses. They wandered for forty years instead of the short journey of less than one year.
Jesus’ forty days were not penitential, because he did not sin. But they were a form of preparation, and, if I may daresay, purification. Again, it was not that Jesus had sin to be purified from. But he had to be purified only in the sense that he was being prepared for the mission of the next three years.
But now, we turn to these forty days from Easter to the Ascension. The time Jesus spent with the apostles, and, as we hear in other places in Scripture, almost five hundred other disciples was also a time of purification and preparation. It was a time for all of them – as it is now for us, each year – to get ourselves ready for the mission that Jesus has planned.
That mission was laid out for us at the end of the gospel reading that we have today. Some call it “The Great Commission” – it is the final charge that Jesus gives to his church.
We are expected to take time every year to prepare ourselves to accomplish this Great Commission in whatever area of our life we find ourselves. We are charged to draw people to Christ. We are called to make disciples everywhere we go, and in every nation. This has led to tremendous missionary work in the history of the church.
But I believe now, in this day, in our culture, the missionary work returns to our own front door. There are far too many who believe they understand what our faith is about, and they choose to reject it. But, if I understood the faith of the way they did, I would probably reject it to!
It is not about belonging to a social group. It is not even about identifying as Christian. It is about living in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the last line of the gospel, Jesus tells us that he is with us always, “until the end of the age”. The Holy Spirit is the proof of his promise.
Here in these next nine days, before the feast of Pentecost, we are called to be in prayer, waiting for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that will transform us and the world, if only we let him.
These days leading to Pentecost found the apostles, with our Lady, in the upper room waiting for the descent of the Holy Spirit. We need to have that same anticipation today. We need to be waiting for the Holy Spirit to fall in a new way that will bring our faith back to life.