Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Then the Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them,
was taken up into heaven
and took his seat at the right hand of God.
But they went forth and preached everywhere,
while the Lord worked with them
and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.
-St. Mark 16:15-20
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how the disciples moved forward with remarkable courage and strength after Christ’s ascension into heaven and the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. He believed and encouraged them to take the Faith to all the known corners of the world in their day with seemingly not a thought given to how they each had cut and run from him when he was arrested, tried, crucified, and died for them. Cowards, yes! But something happened in the after of Christ’s Passion, and that something was the Someone of the Blessed Trinity–the Holy Spirit of God.
Sometimes I forget how world-shaking the reality of Christ’s gospel was to the early followers of The Faith. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus, just before his ascension, tells his followers to go forward and share what they had witnessed about Jesus in all the nooks & crannies of the world. And they did it, which is amazing to consider for at least in their own nooks & crannies, they knew their enemy, but somewhere else? Not so much. They knew nothing about what was ahead of them other than what Jesus told them would happen–driving out demons, speaking a new language, healing the sick–and also there’s the bit about the certain persecution and martyrdom awaiting them because of their obedience to go forward. I believe that if I were in their sandals, I would have asked Jesus if I could just stay home and tell Bible stories to my grandchildren! Wouldn’t you be tempted to respond that way, too?
Near the end of the narrative, St. Mark includes this detail: “But they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.” That reality made all the difference. The LORD worked with them and confirmed them in their faith; that is what made courageous followers of Christ out of cowards. As The Church’s Liturgy shines the light on the acts of those courageous followers in these days leading up to Pentecost Sunday, we notice that the Holy Spirit accomplished through them what he promised. He also accomplished in them what was promised. And that is what gives me the courage to do the same. St. Paul and St. Peter, and other disciples wrote letters that explicitly spell out for new followers of Christ who they were and what they were to be about and by extension, who we are and what we are to be about. I take heart from the letters to the early believers, for it is in the reading, meditation, and prayer with them that the Holy Spirit trains me in courage, hope, and perseverance in “Christing the world,” as spiritual writer Caryll Houselander put it. Those words hold weight for us when we consider that Ms. Houselander could identify with the uncertainties that the disciples stepped into; she herself faced significant childhood difficulties, two world wars, neurosis, and a disease that eventually took her life.
Lately, I’ve really been challenged in Christing my world; it’s a little scary to allow the Holy Spirit to mess with the system of control I’ve developed over my lifetime. I know the message of hope that the Gospel of Christ gives! I can recount the stories of healing and transformation like it’s my own family history. I can write about and teach others the Truth, Beauty, and Goodness of our Faith. Yet when it comes to living side by side with the good, bad, and the ugly around me, I’m often flummoxed because what I know I believe in my head to be true isn’t what I experience in my relationships.
I’ve been hearing the LORD say to me what he said to his cowardly disciples, “Beloved, I desire to work with you and confirm my identity in you.” Caryll Houselander wrote, “One must always have God before one in order to live in any atmosphere.” Do you have trouble living in every atmosphere that you encounter, you are not alone? Our human condition likes control and we can easily worship it more than worshiping God. The disciples had to let go of control or they wouldn’t be up to obeying Christ’s desires for them and the world. Yikes! Am I ignoring what Christ has called me to when I keep a tight grip on maintaining control in order not to be too uncomfortable, too challenged, too vulnerable? Again, Ms. Houselander wrote that “Christ is everywhere; in Him, every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life.” So in reality, Christ has gone before us as he did for the early disciple. All we have to do is show up as other Christs simply to love others more than we love our sense of control!
LORD, I want to believe that you are working with me as I Christ my world, but sometimes I have serious doubts about how that can be possible in the world right here in front of me. Holy Spirit of God, fill me with your love and patience.
And LORD, I believe you want to confirm your identity within me, but I’ve got a long list of memories that have already convinced me you couldn’t possibly see past the doubts I have about myself or how I’ve failed to let loose of my control. Holy Spirit of God, fill me with courage and hope.
LORD, I desire that my life would have a healing influence on every other life I meet. Holy Spirit of God, fill me with your understanding.
I ask all this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.