Mark 16: 15-20
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;
18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
19 ¶ So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.
20 And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
The disciples receive the universal apostolic mandate, commanded by Jesus to take the good news to the whole world, to preach to everyone. This apostolic mission applies to the Church to this day. It applies to the whole Church, laity included. All members of Christ’s body share the Christian vocation to lead others to faith in Christ, to be instruments or vehicles of salvation for others. We are to take the good news to everyone, through our words, through our works, by example.
In these verses of the Bible, Christ clearly teaches that both belief and baptism are necessary for salvation. The Church teaches that conversion to faith in Jesus Christ should lead to Baptism, by which original sin and any sins a person may have committed are forgiven. Where Baptism is impossible, we are taught that it may instead take the form of the baptism of blood, which is martyrdom, or the baptism of desire, where there is love of God and the desire to be baptized may be, at least, considered implicit. We are marked by our Baptism, welcomed as members of the Church, the children of God.
In the early years of the Church, there were frequent miracles of healing performed by those who believed in Christ. These were visible proofs of the truth of Christianity, most helpful in inspiring the faith of those hearing the Gospel. Miracles are worked to this day, but they are infrequent, exceptional occurrences. Our call to faith is long established. The Church stands as a visible witness, potentially to all. We rejoice when new miracles are confirmed, finding our faith and God’s love for us reflected in these extraordinary events, especially of healing.
We may, though, additionally interpret Jesus’ words in ways that are clearly relevant to all Christians every day of our lives. Through faith in Christ, we may cast out devils, meaning that we help to overcome the evils which can so often choke contemporary society. We may heal the sick, meaning that we are alert to the plight of the poor and the sick in our society, and we work to help them and bring them comfort. We may resist poisons, such as the poisons of gossip, greed or jealousy. We may speak with new tongues, meaning that we hear and listen to other people in ways which are informed by love and faith, as we seek to see God in our fellow man. These everyday miracles flow from Christ, and from the mutual love of God and man.
Christ, then, ascends into heaven, body and soul, to take his rightful place at the right hand of the Father, in full possession of the Kingdom he has won through the Passion and Resurrection, our Lord and intercessor with the Father, whose sons we are through Jesus. The Holy Spirit is with us, continuing to inspire our faith and works, as he did the apostles, as they began the demanding and dangerous task of establishing the body of Christ that is the Church.
‘Christ is now exalted above the heavens, but he still suffers on earth all the pain that we, the members of his body, have to bear. He showed this when he cried out from above: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? and when he said: I was hungry and you gave me food.
‘Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? While in heaven he is also with us; and we while on earth are with him. He is here with us by his divinity, his power and his love. We cannot be in heaven, as he is on earth, by divinity, but in him, we can be there by love.
‘He did not leave heaven when he came down to us; nor did he withdraw from us when he went up again into heaven. The fact that he was in heaven even while he was on earth is borne out by his own statement: No one has ever ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven.’ St Augustine