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Ascension Sunday

Acts 1: 1-11; Ps 47:2-3, 6-7, 8-9; Eph 1:17-23, Mt 18:16-20

May 28, 2014

DEFYING GRAVITY

Lucylin could not believe that this day had finally come. She had spent five years in the Correctional Institution for Women in Manila, serving a sentence that was grossly disproportionate to her crime, but today, in what felt like the longest distance she has ever walked, she inches her way to the exit door, literally, one baby step at a time to freedom.

For Lucilyn, the first few months in prison felt like an overextended dark night. How could she have been sentenced for the crime of misappropriation of public funds that amounted to millions precisely at the time when her family was so impoverished that they were forced to live in a garage? In the meantime, the real mastermind, who happened to be her boss, continued to live in affluence and impunity. In the first couple of weeks of her incarceration, Lucilyn had a couple of meltdowns that sent her to solitary confinement. But in the middle of her brokenness and isolation, she felt the quiet, liberative presence of Jesus. In worshipful repentance, Lucilyn prayed as she had never prayed before.

The unfolding of the next few months is something that can be described only as "defying gravity." Lucilyn was earning the trust of her fellow inmates as she offered her companionship and listened to their stories, even as she herself was coming to terms with the fiasco of her own story. Soon enough, she had organized a small prayer group inside the prison, serving as pastor, counselor, and worship leader. Everyone, including the prison guards, fondly called her "Mommy." Day after day, Lucilyn carried out her ministry with a hopeful energy and dedication, until five years had passed and she was granted freedom by presidential pardon. As she bid farewell to her co-inmates, it did not so much feel as leaving prison but leaving what had, by grace, become "oikos," an inspirited house church. Even as Lucilyn celebrated her renewed freedom with her loved ones, she was all set to fulfill the top priority in her agenda - to rejoin her sisters at the Correctional Institution the very next day and resume her ministry as pastor of her house church.

In today's Gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus commissions his followers to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations..." We reflect on this great commissioning in the light of the over-abounding grace of the Ascension, which is the final Easter story. Jesus is not spirited away into some inaccessible celestial realm; rather, Jesus is exalted and becomes Deus pro nobis, "God for us," in a new way. The Ascension is the exaltation of the crucified and Risen One into divine life, and the opening of new life for all disciples; it is "the bridge between the ministry of Jesus and the mission of the church..." (Walter J. Harrelson, et al., eds. The New Interpreter's Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003, 1903).

I had the privilege of witnessing Lucilyn's journey when I was working as a youth evangelizer in Manila. One day, she gave me a thoughtful card she made herself. She had fashioned prison bars out of card stock and behind them was the image of Jesus as the Sacred Heart. "Prison is Jesus," read the inscription. Although Lucilyn's story is uniquely hers, we are invited to welcome the Spirit of Jesus into our most shameful fiascoes so that rude awakenings can be transformed into spiritual awakenings; we can faithfully and courageously accept our commission to be wounded healers and evangelizers. In the refracted light of the ascension of Jesus, we too can "defy gravity."

Antonio Sison, CPPS
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology
Director - MA in Theology Academic Program

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