You know there are things that seem like endings. Clearly, nothing could ever happen after a death, or loss, or tragedy, or after watching Jesus ascend into the clouds. You could even apply the phrase “That’s all she wrote.” End scene. But the story goes on. Luke says they returned to Jerusalem and worshiped with great joy . . . which is cool and wonderful and all that . . . but I think they also returned to Jerusalem wondering what just happened. Forty days of Jesus’ resurrected presence must have upset their equilibrium.
At first, you wonder, “What in the blue blazes is going on?” But then, after a while, you get used to the resurrected Jesus just showing up at your gatherings, eating fish with you, teaching you, and disappearing again. You get used to the presence of Jesus with you and feeling that comfort coming from his presence. But now he has instructed them to be witnesses, he has blessed them, and he has ascended. This feels final. As they return to Jerusalem, where they worship in the temple with great joy, I wonder if some of the joy is because it is over.
As much as they loved Jesus and wanted him to stay, perhaps there is also relief. He has gone back to the Father where he belongs. They are left where they belong, with his recent teaching and instruction, ready to be the witnesses he’s called them to be. Ready to move on. Endings are like that. We don’t want them to come. We would rather stay in our places and situations, and perhaps have been for a long while. But change happens. Loved ones die. Jobs and relationships end. Jesus ascends. In the midst of the sadness of endings, we also find joy, when we gather, worshiping in the temple.
When we deliver older children to airports, or to bus and train stations, we bid them farewell expecting a return or a reunion. We do this so regularly, it feels normal. Some parents remind their university student children to text on arrival. We connect via Skype or some other such form of technology to keep up with what’s going on at home and in their other worlds. Or even it might be as adult children getting together in some way despite distance, to plan for the care of parents. Wherever we are, we are part of one another.
For Jesus’ friends, it was a different kind of farewell. Their loved one moved out of sight on the Great Cloud Elevator that some believe will return him to us. It was not normal, unusual even for Scripture, the first supernatural departure since the whirlwind lifted Elijah. If he waved, Scripture does not record it. Thus began our long-distance relationship with God’s right-hand person. We can’t Facebook message him— although in various guises we can follow him on Twitter. We can’t text him and expect a quick response. We must employ more “old-fashioned” forms of communication. We pray. We worship. Most important, we live in community together as his body, knowing him to be the head of that body. He is part of us; we are part of him. Without him, we have no guidance. Without us, he has no body.