Last Thursday on the church calendar it was Ascension day; lots of churches celebrate it today. What are we celebrating? Jesus leaving-leaving earth and leaving his disciples.
Funnily enough there isn’t much agreement among early Christians about the importance of the ascension, if any. Only Luke tells the story in his usual pageant-worthy detail. In fact, ascension is a much later word that doesn’t even show up in the Bible, like a few other things the church globs on to. One blog I read talked of ADD: ascension deficit disorder, because of its apparent insignificance to early Christians!! Surely it can’t be terribly relevant today either. I mean, really, how does one ascend, go up, from a ball that is the earth? Jesus leaves, that’s about it.
But all scripture is alive, and worth a second look (forgive the pun). And in fact there is all sorts of relevance in these few verses of leave-taking, maybe especially for us as we move into a season of leave-taking as John and Martha move to Ithaca. One of these relevant thoughts might speak to you, to us who are also disciples, student followers of this same Jesus….
1. Jesus points out to the disciples that he, and they, are part of God’s big sweeping story—he connects them with the ancient past, and with recent events, he addresses them in the present and then connects them with the future—Jesus leaves them yes, but leaves them with a part in God’s story.
2. He reminds disciples, student followers like us, that his teachings are the basis for our mission—Jesus leaves them yes, but with a foundation
3. He gives them a purpose and meaning for the future: it is the disciples’ job to proclaim that the world needs to turn away from its failing ways back to God, and pronouncing God’s forgiveness—Jesus leaves them yes, but leaves them with a purpose
4. He acknowledges that they will have to wait, in live in “an in-between time” of active waiting for the power that will come…..not a bad reminder to us that we must not try to be the church without the power of the Holy Spirit with and within us. Jesus leaves them yes, but with a promise
All this is ours from Jesus: a part in God’s story, a foundation in Jesus’ teachings, a meaningful purpose, and a promise of power. This is what we at FUMC are all about.
But what actually struck me this week about this text is the threefold use of the word BLESS/BLESSING
Raising his arms, he blessed them
As he was blessing them, he left them
They were filled with joy and were blessing God in the temple
Sort of an old fashioned concept these days; I mean, apart from ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, or as we might hear among the southern drawls , ‘well, bless your heart’ --neither of which actually mean much, right? And, oh yes, maybe a blessing over food, and a benediction at the end of Sunday worship, but apart from that what do we know of blessing?
According to the dictionary, it has something to do with consecrating or making holy, or invoking divine care, or, in the case of blessing God it has to do with praise. And that certainly all fits with today’s texts. And it has some element of joy-giving says the dictionary. Jesus left them, blessing as he went…and they were filled with joy. Joy? At his leave-taking? No, at his blessing.
Jesus leaves them,yes, but with a blessing.
His blessing leads to their joy, which leads to their blessing God.
Receiving and giving blessing, with joy in between. It becomes that circle of giving and receiving we talk about here
On the plane rides home yesterday, I was reading from John O’Donohue’s book of blessings, To Bless the Space between us. Here’s what he says:
Fixated on the visible, we forget that the decisive presences in our lives—soul, mind, thought, love, meaning, time, life itself—are all invisible….it is on this threshold between visible and invisible that our most creative conflicts and challenges come alive….which is why we reach for blessing. In our confusion, fear and uncertainty we call upon the invisible structures of original kindness (what we might call God/divine love) to come and open pathways of possibility by refreshing and activating in us that invisible potential….blessing is the art of harvesting the wisdom of the invisible world….when a blessing is invoked, a window opens in eternal time.
When we bless, we draw on something much deeper than words, (lips) much more intangible even than thoughts (brain)—we draw on that deep God-fed soul place within us that is the same place where joy is found.
Jesus’ blessing comes from his depths and resonates with theirs. As O’Donohue says, blessing is from soul to soul.
Of course, blessings are often given and received individually, often at a very surface level, but their depth and width is usually sourced in true community. Among my sister clergy women and nuns at the monastery I retreat to, we continually give and receive blessings, and as each one left this week, at different times, it was that deep community love of God that blessed each one.
The sisters at the monastery have a final blessing they give us: arms raised just like Jesus:
May God’s blessing be upon you
May God’s blessing be upon you
May you know peace all your days
And may the deep gift of happiness rest on your shoulders
May your days be warm and your nights without fear
Until we meet again
Know you are loved.
Such soul to soul blessing can be done by anyone, to anyone, but it is especially available to the community Jesus blesses: the community based on God’s story that Jesus leaves
The teachings that Jesus leaves
The mission that Jesus leaves
WE are a blessed, being blessed community, called to bless, for Jesus doesn’t just leave, he leaves it up to us.
His leave-taking, his ‘visible absence’ if you like, leads to Jesus’ invisible Presence, the power he promises so we can fulfill our calling.
May we learn to believe how blessed we are
May we reach deep to receive and give blessing
May we trust God to provide the power to move forward.