On Ascension Sunday, or the Feast of the Ascension, we celebrate the moment in Jesus' Risen life that we speak of in the Creed: "He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty." Forty days after the Resurrection to the full life of God, Jesus returns to his Father in heaven.
Frankly, this does not seem like the best of feasts. Imagine the disciples standing there on the mountain as Jesus leaves. They know he says he will not leave them orphaned, they know he promises an Advocate, but no one likes goodbyes. It still seems like he abandons them.
When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
See? Some of the disciples doubt. Even now, after forty days of encountering the Risen Jesus, some of them doubt. And it seems that Jesus is leaving before their questions are answered.
Is that what God is doing here? God abandons them? God leaves their doubts unanswered? What is God doing?
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
Jesus is giving them a mission. In fact, this Gospel reading is commonly called "The Commissioning of the Disciples." To commission someone means to entrust them with a task. Jesus entrusts the disciples with the task of making disciples of all nations.
So he leaves them in doubt and gives them a job to do? This feast just seems to get worse and worse.
But we can look more closely at the word "commission." We pronounce it "co-mission." This calls to mind words like "co-operation" and "coordinate"—words that speak of working together or sharing a workload. We can say that the disciples share the mission.
Whose mission do they share?
We notice that there are actually two letter m's in the word. The word commission is actually made of two parts: com which means "with" or "together" and mission which means "to release", "to let go" or "to send."* Jesus sends the disciples together.
Together with whom? Each other?
“And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
"I am with you always," Jesus says. The mission is Jesus' mission, and he shares it together with the disciples. He shares it together with all disciples, including us, too. He sends the disciples—he sends us—as he himself is sent by God. Jesus thinks so highly of us that he gives us—he gifts us—a share in the mission to build the Kingdom of God here on earth.
But what if we still have questions; what if we doubt? Apparently, that does not matter to Jesus. He commissions all the disciples, even the ones who doubt. It is not fun to doubt, but it is good to ask questions. That is how we learn. Disciples are learners, those who follow a teacher. And we have the best teacher. Who is he? He is the One who has said,
"I am the Way."
In this Gospel reading Jesus says, "I am" again. He knows the disciples doubt. He knows they still question who he is. Again he answers their unspoken question, "who are you?"
“I am with you always.”
Who is Jesus?
With you always.
We know that St. Matthew writes the Gospel in Greek. The original Greek words actually say, "I with you am."**
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Without the branches, there is no vine. I—with you-—am. We are not abandoned. We are in him.
"I with you."
God with you.
We are not left alone in our doubt. This feast gets better and better. We have God with us.
*Online Etymology Dictionary https://www.etymonline.com/word/commission
**Elizabeth M. Nagel, Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word, LTP, 2020, p.188