Scripture: Acts 1:4-11
Title: “Goodbye”
Preached: Pioneer/FPC – 5/28/17

It isn’t easy to say, “Goodbye.”  And yet, as hard as it is, saying, “Goodbye” well is a great gift to those going through loss.  That is why I am so thankful for chaplains and hospice care professionals who help us through difficult decisions of end of life.  The emotional threshold of saying, “Goodbye” has been a part of my thinking lately as my father is receiving hospice care and is in decline.  At some point, we realize that we can’t fight the inevitable.

This is a very hard decision to come to.  Of course we don’t like “Goodbyes.”  We don’t like saying goodbyes to friends, to loved ones, trusted leaders and bosses.  These transitions are very hard.  Often, we would rather ignore goodbyes than face them, but saying goodbye is necessary for moving forward and if embraced, a good goodbye can bring a wonderful vividness and celebration to life.

I bring this up because today is the Sunday before Pentecost and it is where we as Presbyterians typically celebrate the Ascension of Jesus Christ.  The Ascension is too often glossed over in our rush to Pentecost.  We want to move ahead to brighter things.  We have dealt with the death and resurrection and now we are ready for the Holy Spirit so let’s move on.  The Ascension, however, was critical for the disciples development and it is helpful for our development as Christians.

As I look at our society, we don’t deal with transition well.  Often, a transition brings up unresolved hurts.  We have all experienced transitions gone bad.  Perhaps we have experienced being fired or a broken friendship.  These bad transitions happen within the church too: a scandal, a portion of the church gets upset and leaves, sometimes a pastor is fired; whether we liked him or her or not, these sudden events can leave us shaken and uncertain about our future.  Too often, we in the church, have passed over these emotionally difficult periods in hope to getting to something better.  Unfortunately, these events are very much a part of us and they can leave deep wounds.  And if we don’t reconcile these events, we will often be doomed to repeat them.

They say that time heals all wounds but I would say that time more often allows us to forget about the wound until it is reopened by another event.  That is why we see individuals, families, and organizations fall back into patterns of dysfunction repeatedly.  Something triggers that old wound and brings up that old hurt.  As they say in AA, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” But if we can say, “Goodbye” and say it well, then we can find healing from those wounds and truly move forward.

The Ascension is a ceremony of transition where the Risen Jesus reminded the disciples that God would send them the Holy Spirit.  Jesus then gave them their marching orders to be witnesses of what they have seen across the world, and he said, “Goodbye” as his physical presence and ministry on earth ended and his ruling at the right hand of God, the Father, began.

There is much pageantry in the Ascension as Jesus ascends to the heavens and is engulfed in a cloud.  Then two angels appear, reminiscent of the Resurrection, and basically say, “The service is over.”

11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

The disciples are reminded of the hope that Jesus will one day return again, but it wasn’t that day.

I have always thought of the Ascension as a kind of a strange afterthought, an anti-climactic end to the Easter story, but I realize how wrong I was.  It is, actually, a wonderful conclusion to the gospels and a wonderful beginning to another chapter in the life of the Church.

Should we have expected anything less from the God who brought his people out of Egypt with a Pillar of Fire and the splitting of the Red Sea?  A God who sent a choir of angels to announce the birth of His Son upon the earth? A God who shook the earth and rolled the stone away on Easter?  Wouldn’t his Ascension from earth to heaven also be a time of great celebration and importance?

What does this mean for us?  As we come to the Ascension, we experience the good news that Christ is in heaven at the right hand of God.  We have a representative in heaven listening to our prayers and praying for us.  We do not need to pray to saints, but have Christ who listens to our petitions.  He was one of us.  He understands our problems and humanity.  He is the Risen Christ in bodily form in heaven

We also have something to look forward to that we will one day see the risen Christ for ourselves.  We will look upon the hands pierced for our transgressions.  We will see his face and hear his voice.  We will stand in his glorious presence for we remember the words of Christ to the criminal beside him, “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.”  This is our hope because Jesus has ascended to heaven.  We are also comforted that our faithful loved ones are now enjoying the physical presence of Christ in heaven.  As we heard last week Jesus professing, “In my Father’s house are many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you.”  Because Christ Ascended, we know that he is fulfilling that promise to our deceased loved ones.

As we celebrate Memorial Day tomorrow.  We are given a real and living hope for those who have fought and died in the faith.  The Ascension gives us hope that those who trusted Jesus did not die in vain and that Christ will look after them.

And because he has ascended, we know as the disciples who have preceded us knew that our work here is not done.  As the wonderful hymn reminds us, “We have a story to tell the nations.”  We have not finished our race.  We are Christ’s disciples sent out into the world to share the good news of the risen and ascended Christ.  We lift up the name of Jesus, the name above all names.  He has risen from the grave, and has ascended to the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  We hear the words of angels, “Why are you standing looking up to heaven? Go and do God’s work.”

And by celebrating and honoring these transitions, we are empowered to do the work of God.  Taking time to remember to say, “Goodbye” allows us to move forward.   We acknowledge the pain and difficulty of loss, but in the Ascension, we see that there is also hope.