Pause for thought: Moving on...
Last week was a poignant one at St Padarn’s with several candidates reaching the end of their time with us, a major step on their journey to licensed or ordained ministry. So, an exciting time, but no doubt for some coupled with feelings of apprehension or nervousness about what lies ahead. Whenever our circumstances change, or we transition from one thing to another, we can often feel anxious, fearful, and sometimes isolated.
The Sunday just past was for many Ascension Sunday, albeit Ascension actually will have fallen on the Thursday before coming as it does exactly 40 days after Easter Sunday and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. In those 40 momentous days we know that Jesus appeared to his disciples and others many times, and taught them much about the Kingdom of God, so perhaps his leaving them when he did and how he did may have come as something of a shock.
The two accounts that are most often associated with the Ascension are found in Luke 24 and Acts 1, but I rather like the account we find at the end of Mark 16. Here the goodbye moment before Jesus leaves is immediately preceded by a great commission, indeed THE great commission, and also by a great promise too.
Jesus will have recognised that his leaving would potentially be a cause of sadness and anxiety for the disciples. They’d had to say goodbye to Jesus once already when he had been crucified, and just when they’d got their head around the resurrection and had begun recalibrating their lives again, they were faced with losing him once again.
Last time Jesus had been lost to them on Good Friday they hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory. When put to the test, they had failed pretty miserably. They abandoned him, and poor Peter (whose surname I’m pretty sure must have been Faux Pas!) denied he’d ever known Jesus at all. Would they fail again this time, without Jesus coming back in three days to save them from themselves?
This goodbye was very different though. Before he ascended, Jesus had told them that he would not leave them feeling abandoned, but rather he would send the Holy Spirit, who would fill them with power and with knowledge of the truth. His final words to them, in Matthew’s account of the ascension, were: “I will be with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 20)
If that wasn’t enough reassurance, we read in Acts 1, that as soon as Jesus disappeared from their sight, two men stood by them in white robes and reassured them that the same Jesus who they had seen taken up into heaven would return in a similar way. Tasked with their commission, and reassured by these promises, we read that they then returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
Just as the great commission is timeless, so too is Jesus’ promise to be with us always, whatever our circumstances, and however uncertain the future may look. The Message’s version of Matthew 28 :20 puts it this way: “’l will be with you day after day after day”.
Revd Chris Burr