Luke, in the First Reading for the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Acts 1:6-14) lays out the theme of the book of Acts, which is: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world” (Verse 8). That is the basis for the church and its mission.
The mandate is given in the background of the Ascension to underscore its finality. It is Jesus’ final instruction as he is taken up thereafter. We gather from this reading that the commission is from Jesus himself, it is to begin in Jerusalem and spread from there and it will have the power of the Holy Spirit. As nucleus of the witnesses, Luke lists the disciples, “together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers” (Verse 14).
Interestingly, in his first book, the Gospel of Luke 6:13, he writes that Jesus “called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles”. He is the only writer who uses the term “apostles” which means, “those who are sent” Equally interesting is the inclusion of women in this nucleus, but some Western texts refer to them as “wives and children” obviously to rid them of independence.
One more thing about the background: Jesus was covered in a cloud as he was taken up. In the Hebrew Bible, the cloud is the Shechinah, the presence of the Lord. The Lord’s Presence, in the form of a cloud covered the tabernacle. In the New Testament too, on the Mount of the Transfiguration, a cloud covered Jesus and Moses and Elijah.
Jesus being covered in a cloud on the day of Ascension means that from now on, he is no longer on earth in his earthly form but in the Presence of God.
Yet, at the beginning of this reading we see the disciples asking Jesus if he is now restoring the kingdom of Israel. This is a reflection of the messianic expectations current at that time when Israel was under occupation. The disciples too thought of Jesus’ mission as being to overthrow the powers of the occupation.
Jesus’ response is: “No, that is God’s business. When that will happen is in God’s hands and you have no control over that. Your business however, is to be witnesses to what you have experienced”.
How does the Gospel and Epistle readings relate to the reading in Acts? Read on