In both the First Lesson (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Gospel (Luke 7:11-17), widows are walking to the grave and grieving deeply. In their society, the loss of husband and son left them helpless and hopeless. Neither widow could snap out of her grief. Nor could those around them do anything to change the deathly situation. Dealing with death requires the work of God. Only God can handle death. Death has been done in by God! And only by God’s power! When Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you rise” (Luke 7:14), the people knew “God has looked favorably on his people” (Luke 7:16). We are all desolate and helpless in the face of death. We cannot undo it. Sophisticated technology may prolong death, but we cannot do away with it. We may deny it. We may respond in anger. We may even come to accept it, but that does not erase it. The greater reality is that Jesus’ compassion for a dying world has brought us to life again. While we were dead in our sins, Christ died for our sake. Luther reminds us that when we are lowered into the grave, we are sunk deep in our Baptism. Baptismally bound to Christ, we die to sin daily, finally, and wonderfully in resurrection hope. God’s last word to death is life!
From New Testament times, the Christian church has been concerned about its outreach. God is concerned about all persons, and the church is the mediator of that outreach. How can the world hear of God’s great name unless the church speaks clearly? How can the world know of God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm unless the church acts? The Gospel speaks of God’s concern for the “foreigner,” a concern expressed through the church. This is the church at its best. One of the enduring problems of the church is to strike the proper balance between guarding the blessings of chosenness and being the mediator of God’s outreach. It is possible to guard the purity of doctrine and life to the extent that the church becomes irrelevant to the world and its problems. At the other extreme, it is easy to compromise essentials to meet the world until we fall for everything because we stand for nothing. Neither attitude is foreign to the church. The church is the body of Christ, and as he is the mediator between God and mankind, so must the church be. The outreach of Christ must be shown in the outreach of the church. It is only through the eyes of faith that we can see Jesus as the Christ, the mediator of God’s will and power. The centurion’s faith saw Jesus as God’s mediator, and therefore merited Jesus’ words of praise. Jesus, the Christian church (as the body of Christ) and Christians (as members of the body of Christ) all share in the mediatorship of Jesus.
This text affirms that the Spirit will continue Jesus’ ministry and lead the disciples “into all the truth,” meaning the full understanding of God’s act in Christ. The Spirit will also “declare to you the things that are to come” (16:14), that is, the promises of God for the future. The fullness of God is Christ’s, and so as the Spirit reveals Christ, the disciples will come to know God. Trinity Sunday commemorates a doctrine which seeks to define the mystery of God’s nature. Christian experience has asserted that the God of mystery and might has revealed himself in his Son, the historical Jesus. However, God is more than a person. God is alive, empowering, saving—this is the Holy Spirit. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one God! Do not try to reason it out as a logical statement. Rather, it is a statement of faith based on experience. If all attempts at explanation end in the confession of the mystery of the Godhead, so be it! Our hope can lie only in a deity beyond our feeble understanding. Ultimately the doctrine of the Trinity is not to be explained but to be accepted in awe.
The Bible speaks about the Spirit of God right from the beginning of the Bible. Two important terms for the Spirit in the Bible are ruah (in Hebrew) and pneuma (in Greek). The Spirit of God as described in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible gives life to the entire creation. For St. Paul, creation is not yet completed. It is still longing for its liberation from whatever holds it captive and prevents it from living fully the new life Jesus has brought (Romans 8:22-23). Through the Spirit, it is God himself who is present and active. Earlier on Jesus had foretold that all who believe in him would receive the Spirit (John 7:39). Now in his farewell speech Jesus promises again the Spirit of Truth to come and stay with the disciples (John 14:15). There is continuity between Jesus and the community of believers, the Church. As Jesus was guided throughout his ministry by the Spirit, so the Apostles and the first Christian community felt strongly that the Spirit of Jesus was present in them and among them. The Acts of the Apostles describe how the Spirit made them understand the deep meaning of the message of Jesus and gave them courage to proclaim it openly without fear. The Church still lives in the faith that the Spirit will continue to show it how to continue the mission of Jesus today.
The “Ascension of our Lord” recalls that after the risen Lord appeared to his disciples (Luke 24:13- 35,36-43), he bids them farewell, blesses them, and promises them the Holy Spirit. At this final moment he helps the Apostles to understand the meaning of his death in the light of the Scriptures. For Jesus it is the end of his journey in this world. For the Apostles it is the beginning of a long journey into the world to take Jesus’ message everywhere. But they are not sent to go alone. Jesus promises them a companion on the road: the Spirit. Through this Spirit they will realize that he is still with them. Luke has two versions of the Ascension. In the Acts of the Apostles, the Ascension to heaven happens only after appearing to the disciples for forty days which is a symbolic figure. During this time Jesus prepares his disciples to be his messengers. Their missionary journey will start in Jerusalem and reach Rome, the center of the Roman empire. The Gospel of Ascension tells us that like the Apostles we are all sent out on a journey into the world to take Jesus’ message of love to all we meet on our road of life. As followers of Jesus, we have also to be his messengers. The task of evangelizing all peoples is the most important mission of the Church. Every Christian is called to tell the Good News of Jesus to others by word and action. Ascension reminds us also that—as for Jesus—our life is a journey home, to our Father’s house. Although God has given us the important mission to transform this world into his kingdom, we always remain “strangers and foreigners on earth” (Heb 11:13). Our true home is heaven.