Today is the day celebrated on the Christian calendar as "Ascension of the Lord", making next Sunday (May 28) "Ascension Sunday". On this day (and on Sunday), we remember the events recorded in Luke 24:50-53, Mark 16:19-20 (though this is probably a second or third century addition to Mark's Gospel), and, especially, Acts 1:1-11, with the focus on verse 9...
" And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight." - ESV
Sometimes, it seems that just when we want Jesus to be very clear to us or about something, he is obscured by something. Perhaps he is obscured by the distractions of daily life, our work or livelihood, our families, personal tragedy, our own sinfulness...on and on. The clouds of life can obscure our Lord...just when we may feel we need him most!
Welcome to the confusing and often misunderstood world of Jesus' Ascension.
As we ponder the meaning of this bizarre event, a Johannine text may help our perspective...
"I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away..." - John 16:7 (ESV)
In every life, things change. I am reminded of the protagonist in Herman Hesse's great book Siddhartha, who discovers after a long journey and many trials that the one "constant" in life is the ever-changing river. Change is always the leave-taking of one thing and the arrival of another, and, though painful, there is often good in the change which may not be immediately recognized.
Leaving a baby for the first time with a babysitter helps the child to grow accustomed to your (relatively brief) absence...leaving a child at school means they will learn new and wonderful things...leaving a child at church camp means an opportunity to experience God in a new way. In each case, the "thing" which arrived was growth and maturity. This is what change can offer.
Jesus left that we might grow and mature as disciples. He sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us until he returns, but we are taught clearly in Acts 1 (et al) that Jesus has, at least physically, left us. John 16 reminds us, however, that he left for our benefit. In his absence, we must learn to rely on the Spirit and be strengthened by what we have been taught.
As I prepare to move to a new appointment in just a few weeks, the lessons of the Ascension hit home. I must leave in order for the faithful disciples of Dawson to grow and mature, with another pastor to lead them on the next steps of their journey...all of this can be painful, but is ultimately for the good of the Body and the glory of God.
"Almighty Father, who is the One constant in life upon whom we can rely, bless those who are in a time of change and transition, that empowered by your Spirit, they may grow in grace and in ministry effectiveness, through your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen."