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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 1:1–11

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (NRSV)

Whether ending a relationship with an employer or standing at a grave or the subtle way that children grow and change, not needing the adults in their lives as they once did, leave-taking awakens all sorts of emotions and spiritual challenges.

This account of Jesus’ Ascension comes after his post-resurrection appearances to the disciples and portends the Holy Spirit’s companionship and infusing fire at Pentecost. Jesus admonishes the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and wait. The promise of God will be fulfilled. The disciples, at this late hour, still don’t understand Jesus’ mission and future. They ask if he is finally going to restore the kingdom to Israel. And once more, having done it over and over and over again, Jesus tells them it is not theirs to know the mind of God. He commissions them with the promise of the Holy Spirit to go into all the world as witnesses. It then happens: he takes his leave—Jesus is lifted up, and in a marvel too great for words, a cloud does the final deed, taking him from their sight.

How many of us stand at the airport and watch the last trail of an airplane with our beloved on it? How many of us, when leaving a child at camp or college cast our gaze down the road or over the shoulder, staring into the emptiness? It takes the angels of our lives to redirect our gaze to the next thing, the next step, the next hour.

Implied in Jesus’ leave-taking is trust. Trust in the community to be able to carry on the mission; trust in the vision that comes when we know the only way our beloved ones or colleagues will grow is by letting go; trust that God goes with them and with us. Good-bye in Old English comes from the phrase “God be with you.” So it is, and so it shall be.

God of arrivals and departures, of embraces and releases, help us trust that you are with us both in absence and presence, and give the deepest knowing that we are far from alone but have, in this church, the marvelous gift of one another. Through Jesus. Amen.

Written by Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

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