The Second reading for tomorrow’s feast of the Ascension has Paul writing, perhaps in the early 60s AD, from his imprisonment in Rome, to the Church in Ephesus.
I, the prisoner in the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together. There is one Body, one Spirit, just as you were all called into one and the same hope when you were called.
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.
Each one of us, however, has been given his own share of grace, given as Christ allotted it. It was said that he would:
When he ascended to the height, he captured prisoners,
he gave gifts to men.
When it says, ‘he ascended’, what can it mean if not that he descended right down to the lower regions of the earth? The one who rose higher than all the heavens to fill all things is none other than the one who descended. And to some, his gift was that they should be apostles; to some, prophets; to some, evangelists; to some, pastors and teachers; so that the saints together make a unity in the work of service, building up the body of Christ. In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.
Paul allows himself a certain irony. There are those who are physically captive and yet supremely free. There are those who seem completely free and yet are subject, slaves of sin.
He counts himself among the first and writes that those who hear his words maybe saved from all that is not of God, and should join him in his work of sharing the good news.
The work is not over yet. Free in the Lord let us pray that together with Paul, free and working yet, we, too, may play our part.
Photographs of fresco of St Paul, and of the chains of St Paul displayed in the Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, Rome. (c) 2014, Allen Morris