There’s a little helping verb that jumps out at me from today’s readings. It is the word “will.” Over and over again, we hear Jesus use this simple, four-letter word.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus says,
· “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).
· “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8).
· “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).
As a former English major and current high school teacher, I am very attentive to proper syntax. And I know that helping verbs can change the entire meaning of a sentence. Jesus does not say, “You may, you might, you can, you could.” He quite clearly says, “You WILL.” There are no if’s, but’s, or maybes about it. God’s promises are certain.
So often the future fills us with fear and anxiety. And our world is full of uncertainty—even more so in the midst of a global pandemic.
And, like many of us, the disciples don’t seem satisfied by Jesus’ promises. They want a little more information. Just a few more details: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom?” (Acts 1:6). Perhaps Jesus’ promise feels a little thin. “In a few days,” he says. “In a few days, you will be baptized.” Um, that’s not actually an option on my Google Calendar. I’d like the who, what, when, where, and how of the Holy Spirit’s arrival, please Lord.
Of course, we know God doesn’t work that way (no matter how much we might want him to). But that’s okay. Because the uncertainty is a season; God will not leave us waiting indefinitely. Our God is a God who has remained with us and will remain with us until every promise is fulfilled.
If we need a reminder, we can return to the rich Scripture readings from the Easter Vigil six weeks ago. That lengthy Liturgy of the Word sweeps us through a whirlwind of salvation history. Our God created the heavens and the earth from a formless void, bringing beauty out of chaos. Our God breathed life and dignity into us, shaping us in his own image and likeness. Our God blessed a barren couple with descendants numerous as the stars, making Abraham and Sarah’s family his own people. Our God heard the cry of the poor and freed them from slavery, sending Moses to lead them through the wilderness. God does not abandon us, and he will not leave us waiting. He will fulfill his promises…just wait and see.
Fast-forward to today’s Gospel, and God no longer tells us to wait.
Go! Jesus says. Proclaim!
In this passage from Mark, Jesus continues to use that little helping verb – WILL - reminding us that he makes good on his promises.
· “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).
· “Signs will accompany those who believe” (Mark 16:17).
· “They will drive out demons” (Mark 16:17).
· “They will speak new languages” (Mark 16:17).
· “They will pick up serpents with their hands” (Mark 16:18).
· “They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16.18).
All this is to encourage us to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Jesus not only tells the disciples to do this, but he promises that all baptized believers will continue to do this important work too.
Sharing the Good News, confronting evil, communicating in new ways, comforting and healing the sick…
If it sounds like Jesus is asking a lot of us, we should remember that we do not do this work alone. The Lord continues to work with us. Mark tells us that the disciples “went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them” (Mark 16:20).
It is also worth pointing out that Jesus does not actually ask us to do this work; he commands it. GO! PROCLAIM! Those are imperative verbs.
As my students might ask, “Is this assignment required?” Yes; yes, it is. This is not extra-credit. Jesus does not suggest or encourage, he commands. And this responsibility does not belong to a small fraction of our Church – it’s not just for ordained bishops or lay ecclesial ministers—it is the responsibility of all baptized believers. We are all called to be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Proclaiming the Gospel is what we were born—or RE-born—to do! Immersed in water, anointed with oil, clothed in a white garment – this is how we have received new life in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are called to share this Good News with the world. Through baptism, we have accepted the responsibility to proclaim the Gospel as sharers in Christ’s identity as Priest, Prophet, and King.
Do we believe this? When we renewed our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday, we were asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” And we responded with a resounding, “I do!”
Unlike the disciples in that scene from Acts, we are not waiting for the promise of the spirit! It was well and good for the disciples to wait, but what are we waiting for? We have been baptized with the Holy Spirit, we have receivedpower, and we have become witnesses!
I very intentionally used the present perfect tense just then – “we have been baptized” – because this tense is used to describe actions that began in the past and CONTINUE INTO THE PRESENT.
Baptism is not a one-and-done event! As you may have noticed, we get wet every single Sunday during this Easter season! This awesome sprinkling rite reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit and of our baptismal promises: not only what Jesus promises us but also what we promise Jesus.
The holy water in our parish fonts was one of the first things to disappear when the pandemic first began. But even when the fonts were running dry and even when our churches were closed, our baptism was never taken away from us. Nothing—not even a global pandemic—can take away our baptism. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.
In baptism, we have died with Christ and we have risen with Christ. The reading from Acts says that Jesus “presented himself alive…by many proofs” (Acts 1:3). What proofs will we offer the world to show that Christ is still alive in us?
The next time you dip your hand into a font of holy water, remember that Jesus has appointed you –not just your bishop or your pastor—but YOU to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. And think about that four-letter word: WILL. The Holy Spirit will be with you, but what WILL you do with that power?
Megan Effron is the Director of Faith Exploration at La Lumiere School, an independent, Catholic boarding and day prep school in La Porte, Indiana. She teaches a variety of theology courses—Biblical Literacy, Stories of Grace, and Exploring Faith with C.S. Lewis—and also coordinates school retreats and liturgies. She and her husband Kevin live on campus and serve as Dorm Parents for the residential students of Becket Dorm.
Prior to working at La Lumiere, Megan served in a variety of ministry roles while earning her Master of Divinity at the University of Notre Dame. From leading Bible studies with the inmates of St. Joseph County Jail to teaching homiletics to students at Holy Cross College to facilitating Lectionary-based faith sharing for the women of Welsh Family Hall, Megan’s love for the Word and passion for preaching remain at the heart of her ministerial pursuits.
Originally from California, Megan graduated summa cum laude from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Spanish. After her undergraduate studies, she served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps at Cristo Rey High School Sacramento from 2015-2016.
Megan will be returning to the University of Notre Dame in the Fall of 2021 to begin her Doctorate in Systematic Theology. She hopes to study the theology of preaching through the lens of ecclesiology, pneumatology, and sacramental theology.
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