by Dan Joseph
Scripture: Luke 24: 46-53
Goodbye is a very hard word to say.
In our lives we may have to say many goodbyes, colleagues who leave work, school friends as we move to a new area, loved ones who are terminally ill, friends who are moving to start a new life abroad.
Goodbyes are nearly always very painful, We all find it hard to say the things we need to say sometimes - we can go through life assuming that people kind of know what we mean or feel and never actually say the words out loud. Sometimes it's only when we experience something traumatic or there is a major life change about to happen that the reality is hammered home to us - that life is short and we shouldn't procrastinate - sometimes only then do we open our mouths and say what's important.
Jesus was in this very position - from what the scriptures record he wasn't exactly known for mincing his words at the best of times - and yet here just before his physical body is about to leave them - he has to make his final words count.
Famous Last Words:
“I’m going out for a while; I may be some time.”
“It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.”
“Kiss Me, Hardy!”
Famous Last Words - the last few lines of dialogue – can remain etched in our memories.
So to is it with today’s gospel of the ascension. But one of the first things that strikes you about this particular goodbye is that it isn’t an unhappy one.
What do the disciples do once Jesus has said his goodbyes and gone? They go back to the temple joyous in their praise of God. For them this is a happy time – a time to be glad.
The ascension is less about endings and goodbyes – and more about beginnings.
The flesh and blood Jesus they knew, who had eaten with them and started to bring them to enlightenment, was now the Christ in heaven and their whole world had changed – that was why they were so happy.
These were the same disciples who only a short time before had been hiding in their upstairs room – they’d seen their Mentor and friend put to death in front of them – and they hid away – afraid of reprisals. Even when they’d heard the news of Jesus's resurrection they probably would have still felt afraid and uncomfortably worried about what Jesus would say to them now – knowing how much they’d let him down – denied him and doubted him.
But they didn’t need to worry - and for the same reason that they didn’t need to worry, neither do we.
When we are tempted to remain cut off from God, hiding behind locked doors, God comes to us. Suddenly Jesus is in our midst, in spite of all our efforts to keep him out, and Jesus stands among us, not as our accuser, our prosecutor, but as one who loves and understands us, who assures us, "Peace be with you."
Our failures are no barrier to God's love. As Jesus assured his disciples that their failures didn’t change his love for them, we are assured of this as well. As Paul writes in Romans, "Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ". Nothing.
There are times when we may feel unable to pray, anxious over the things we have done and left undone. We need to leave the locked room of our anxiety and come out into the world.
The ascended Jesus defines a new beginning for our relationship with God – just as it did the disciples.
At the Ascension, this human being - the person and the resurrected body of Jesus - became for all eternity a part of who God is. The life of a single, individual human being is forever joined to the life of God the Father.
It was not the spirit of Jesus, or the essence of Jesus, or the divine nature of Jesus, or the invisible part of Jesus, or the idea of Jesus, or anything like that, that ascended to Heaven. It was the resurrected body of Jesus: a body that the disciples had touched, a body that ate and drank with them, a real, physical body - bearing the marks of nails and a spear. This is what ascended. This is what, now and forever, is a living, participating part of God. The Ascension changed who God is.
It is important to really think about that event, think about what it says about being human. Sometimes people go through life being uncertain about the value of our humanity. We can feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed about much that characterizes being human-things like the reality of our bodies and our appetites; the fact that we are finite, and limited; the fact of our mortality; the difficulties we can sometimes have in relationships; the struggles, joys, and setbacks that always seem to be a part of our quest for God; and the power that our feelings and emotions have over us.
All of these parts of being human, and so many others, we frequently treat as less than holy, as somehow divorced from our spiritual and religious lives, even as bad things we should not have. This train of thought leads to one thing - pain.
The Ascension, along with the Jesus’s birth, is here to tell us that it is a good thing to be a human being; indeed it is a wonderful and an important and a holy thing to be a human being. It is such an important thing that God did it. Even more, the fullness of God now includes what it means to be a human being. The experience, the reality, and the stuff of being a person is so valuable that God has made it a part of God's life.
So, we should consider all people as special, and holy. We should think about it
before we deride their appearance or size.
Rather we should be looking for the aspects of their lives where we can see God breaking through into the world through them - maybe it's as plain as day - maybe it's just breaking out through the gaps at the edges.
So when we approach God maybe concerned about things we have or haven’t done – we should always be mindful of the message of the ascension - God knows what it is like to be human, because God remembers.
Continuing the Work of the Master
What Happened Here?
To live in Heaven
by Dr. Robert Crouse
Going and Coming -- Ascension Day Sermon
by Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Ascended and Still Present
by The Rev. Charles Henrickson
Three Wonders of Ascension
by The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove
On the Lord's Ascension, I
by St. Leo the Great
On the Lord's Ascension, II
by St. Leo the Great
Ascension Sermons and Bible Commentaries
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