Maryknoll Father Eugene Toland reflects on the gift of Jesus’ presence empowering us to share God’s mercy and love with the world.
I recall walking outside on a cloudy day when sunlight suddenly burst through the clouds. Everything around me was illuminated by the sun, changing the tone of the entire scene, even changing my mood. I saw things differently – green colors of the trees and blues in the sky – and gained a new sense that this could be a nice day.
The early disciples of Jesus were walking under a dark cloud for days. All their hopes and expectations from those months with Jesus roaming the hills and valleys of Galilea were dashed during the turbulent days in Jerusalem when Jesus was pushed into the hands of the temple leaders and ultimately turned over to the Romans to be killed. It was over! No new Kingdom, no new way of life that Jesus had initiated. The future appeared dark and hopeless.
Then, one by one, each disciple sensed a burst of light, a presence that touched each of them to the core.
He is here! He is alive! They began to see things differently, to remember the promise that which Jesus had spoken. He would not abandon them; the mission continues, ‘as the Father has sent me so I send you.’ Many of them began to return to Jerusalem to tell the others what they were experienced. They discovered that that it was a communal experience. He has been raised! He has entered into the fullness of God. We feel the joy of his power.
The early Christian community sensed Jesus’ presence once more among them to initiate a new phase of bearing God’s mercy to the world. They and future generations of disciples would embody God-in-mission.
In a dramatic moment the disciples realize that Jesus as they knew him must ascend and return to the Father, but he will not abandon them. The victory of the Risen Christ would now spill over on them to be the living Body of Christ as missionary disciples and bearers of the mercy of God into all times and cultures.
There are anxious questions: How to move ahead? How to return home living the Way of Jesus as joyful witnesses of God’s mercy? It is their common memory that gives them courage and hope. Don’t be afraid of anyone or any situation because you go and act with God at your side. Be brave and bold- not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. Go as the Body of Christ and stand out from the crowd as joyful witnesses of God’s mercy in the world.
I have been blessed to have known and worked with a number of contemporary witnesses and martyrs who have followed Jesus and even given their lives in solidarity with the Body of Christ and witness to God’s mercy
One example is that of two young men in South Sudan whom I met while working in a refugee camp. The war with the government in the north had been going on for a number of years and many people had been driven from ther homes to the south. The government forces had started using artillery and we had to evacuate again. The night before, two young men came to my hut to tell me that they would not be joining the caravan but would go back to their village in the north to support the older villagers that were still there. Since they were going into the mountains they asked if I could give them two pairs of socks! "We want to bring the good news of Jesus," one said. I warned them that this meant crossing dangerous government lines to get there. "We are not afraid, said the other, God is walking with us as Jesus told us."
I marveled at their youthful hope, and enthusiasm to be missioners despite danger and want. The next day as we drove out of the compound these two young men threw open the gate for us and waved us through with broad smiles, shouting "Don’t worry, all will go well. God is with us!"
No matter our age or state in life, as a Christian community we can help each other to live out our vocations as missionary disciples of Jesus with confidence and joy, and with the absolute assurance that we are connected to the source of all life from which that no one or no situation can separate us.
Why are you standing looKing to the sky? He is risen! Go back to Galilea, join him as missionary disciples. Stand out from the crowd as joyful witnesses of God’s mercy in the world. Don’t be afraid — I am at your side.
Image: Refugees arriving at the Doro camp in South Sudan in 2012. Photo by UK Department for International Development and available on Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 .