McFarland

Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Kelli

Light a candle

Read Luke 24:44-53

Tomorrow, May 13, is the official date we commemorate Jesus’ ascending into heaven.  Easter was weeks ago so it may feel like the two dates are not connected, but according to Luke’s Gospel, the pace is actually much quicker.  A little context to our story to illustrate my point: Cleopas and his travel companion go to the disciples and tell them what they experienced as they were walking to Emmaus.  The disciples are discussing this story when Jesus stands among them.  To prove he is not a ghost, he eats some fish.  That is the lead-up to the reading for the Ascension.

Jesus talks about how the Messiah is to suffer, die, and rise again; and how the disciples are to proclaim repentance and forgiveness everywhere.  Then they go on a walk to Bethany – a quick two-mile jaunt.[1]  Here he is carried up into heaven.

The pace of this narrative makes the ascension pretty funny.  There’s Good Friday then Easter.  Sometime on Easter Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus, and then later that day he appears to the disciples, eats some fish, leads them on a walk, and then floats away.  He just got back and now he’s all “Good seeing you, I’m going to head out now”?  It’s so weird – I love it!

But preaching professor Barbara Lundblad had a much more acute, and probably accurate, assessment of the emotional environment.  She writes, “Jesus’ disciples must have felt the earth slipping beneath their feet at the thought of being left alone.  Again.”[2]

It is awful to feel alone.  A feeling that has been all too familiar this year.  Feeling separated and detached from family, friends, social groups, and our faith community.  Maybe even a feeling of being separated from God.  It’s understandable that the disciples don’t want to be left alone again.

While reading about the ascension, I saw the words “absence” and “presence” partnered together in multiple resources.  This seeming paradox describes how even in Jesus’ absence, through the Spirit, he will still be present with us.  While this year has been undeniably hard due to being separated and feeling alone, we experienced the “absence and presence” paradox in a way we never have before, and definitely not in such a communal, global way.

We experienced feeling present with others even though we were physically distant.  We celebrated birthday parties and Christmas gift openings over FaceTime.  We attended Bible studies and shared the joys and concerns in our lives over Zoom.  We sent care packages and were more intentional about calling and checking in with one another.  We say good morning and share the peace in Facebook comments during worship.  Last fall we saw smiles through windshields at the drive-in worship and now we are starting to see one another face-to-face (though 6+ feet apart) at in-person worship. Just having someone – whether they are in a picnic chair at the other end of the driveway or on the other end of the phone – just having someone affirm that this year has been hard and there are still tough situations to navigate, makes it feel like we’re not so alone.  We were distant – and to a degree, we continue to remain a bit distant – but we are still very much present with one another.

Jesus promised us his presence amid absence through the power of the Spirit, which empowered us to do the same.  Even though feeling alone is a terrible feeling, and the disciples couldn’t imagine Jesus being gone again, Jesus promises that his presence will remain with them.  In the words of Dr. Lundblad: “From now on, Jesus says, I will be with you in the power of the Spirit.  Though I am leaving, you will not be left alone.”[3]  Thanks be to God.

[1] “Bethany,” Good Shepherd Travel, last modified unknown, accessed May 11, 2021, https://www.tourtheholylands.com/holy-land-tour-locations/holy-land-tours/seven-attributes-of-the-biblical-town-of-bethany.
[2] Barbara Lundblad, “Preach This Week, May 5, 2016, Gospel Reading, Commentary on Luke 24:44-53,” Working Preacher from Luther Seminary https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ascension-of-our-lord/commentary-on-luke-2444-53-4 (accessed May 10, 2021).
[3] Lundblad.

Reflection Questions

1) When have you felt isolated and alone this past year? Name those moments in your heart, grieve them, and be gentle with yourself.

2) When and how have you felt connected, though separated, this past year? Whose presence gave you courage, comfort, reassurance, or strength?

3) In a time when many of our worship and faith practices had to shift drastically, how or where have you felt Jesus’ presence this past year?

4) What is one intentional thing you might do to connect with someone?

5) How might God be calling you to respond to this passage?

Extinguish the candle