Saying ‘good bye’ is rarely easy. We don’t want the person to whom we are saying ‘good bye’ to go. It might be wishing granny ‘safe journey’ at the station. It might be seeing a partner off at the airport as they head for a long-term assignment overseas. Or it might be that final farewell to a loved one recently departed this life.
It’s a situation the disciples had to face. This Thursday is Ascension Day in the church’s calendar, the day when Jesus bade his disciples ‘good bye’ and ascended into heaven, the completion of his life on earth. As St Luke records in the final verses of his Gospel, Jesus led the disciples out as far as Bethany. Lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he was carried up into heaven. A ‘farewell’ more moving and more poignant than any you will find in a Mills and Boon paperback.
To us, the odd thing about the story was that the disciples weren’t distraught. No. Luke says they returned to Jerusalem ‘with great joy’, and were continually in the temple blessing God. But that’s not all. Although they were now alone, without Jesus to hold their hands, they took up Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’.
Like their master before them, they soon courted controversy, especially with the ‘thought police’, the leaders of the temple. They began proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, the need for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. They healed the sick. And the earliest church began to grow by leaps and bounds. Almost immediately Peter and John were summoned before the temple leaders to explain themselves.
Jesus’ commission to go out and spread the good news is as pertinent to us today as to the disciples two thousand years ago. In some countries, those who do so face the same kind of harassment as Peter and John, of persecution, imprisonment, even death. We, thank God, do not, so why are many of us so seemingly reluctant to help spread the good news?
Remember, all who believe can help. The disciples didn’t have PhDs or degrees in theology.
They were, as Luke describes them in Acts, ‘uneducated and ordinary men’ – but they were also ‘bold’ and ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. Perhaps the ten days between Ascension Day and Pentecost is a good time for us to meditate on how we might be emboldened to proclaim the good news?
St Mary’s and St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Montrose