We are reaching the end of the forty-nine days of the Easter season and soon will be celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit on the fiftieth day, Pentecost. For now, though, we back up to the fortieth day after the Resurrection, when Jesus ascends into heaven. This year we read the account in the Gospel of St. Mark. Before Jesus ascends, he gives the disciples a mission:
Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
This mission sounds familiar. Remember when Jesus first begins his ministry? St. Mark says,
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Jesus gives the disciples a mission, to continue the work that Jesus himself began. The Kingdom of God has come near and there is work to be done to bring it to its fullness. Sharing in a mission is called co-missioning. Jesus commissions the disciples.
The Kingdom of God is extremely important to Jesus. He spends most of his time on earth showing people what it is like. Now, he entrusts this mission to the disciples. We get a sense of how much he trusts the disciples, despite all their failings. He knows that they believe and that is enough.
Belief, it seems, goes a long way. Belief does marvellous things. Jesus says,
these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
These are incredible signs! Evil is cast out! New languages are spoken, building bridges between people who previously did not understand one another. Dangerous creatures are peaceful, death is defied, the sick are made well! Marvellous signs indeed!
But where are these signs today? We believe in the Good News of the Kingdom of God. We believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. We are baptized, we are commissioned disciples! We, too, have been entrusted with the building of the Kingdom. But have any of us cast out a demon? Have any of us drunk poison without being harmed? (Our parents would not be impressed if we tried this!) We have not done any of these signs. Are we doing something wrong?
If we notice, though, the disciples are not doing these signs either. The believers are not doing signs. The signs accompany those who believe. That's different. The signs are not being performed; they are going along with the disciples. What can this mean?
So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and proclaimed the good news everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Jesus ascends into heaven to oversee the building of the Kingdom of God. He is not going to keep appearing here and there; he has entrusted the mission to us. And we are not alone:
the Lord worked with them
How can this be? How can the Lord work with us when Jesus has ascended into heaven? We know the answer because we know what happens next: Pentecost. The Holy Spirit comes. We have been baptized; we have received the Holy Spirit. We are not alone in this work.
and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it.
Here the signs are mentioned again, not being performed but accompanying the Good News. This seems to be really important. The message is confirmed by the signs that go along with it. That means, if we see the signs, we know that we are actually doing the work that Jesus left us to do.
But again, even if we are not supposed to be performing signs, have we even witnessed the signs that are listed here? Maybe not. But if we are not alone, if the Lord works with us, then there will be signs of the Holy Spirit at work.
The signs of the Holy Spirit are what we call the fruit of the Holy Spirit. The church lists twelve fruit of the Holy Spirit:
We know these signs, especially the first three. These are signs we can really look for. We notice them in others. We find them within ourselves. If the work that we do produces these rich beautiful fruit, we can be sure that we are helping to build the Kingdom of God.