We last saw each other in person 18 months ago, before the pandemic fell, never dreaming it would be our last visit. My old friend, Irma, died in March, after a brief illness, at the age of 85. Her death was a tremendous blow. But one of the ways in which I am comforted is confidence that she and I will be reunited in the life to come. How will that work? What will we look like? No one knows, but I am confident we will be reunited.
That said, I hadn’t expected to see her so soon. On Tuesday afternoon, I opened a letter her widowed husband had sent, and a photograph of my friend fell out of the envelope. And there she was! My old friend just as I remember her—smiling, kind, beautiful. I dropped the envelope as though I had been burned, and burst into tears. I had not known how much I had missed her, how hard her death had been, how much I longed to see her. Until I saw her again.
Somehow, seeing her face when I did not expect, was as much of a shock as her unexpected death. Somehow, seeing her face when I did not expect, brought back a flood of fond memories, and I cried tears of both joy and sorrow.
Yesterday, the church celebrated The Ascension of Our Lord, 40 days after Easter. While Ascension Day is considered a minor festival, rarely remarked, it serves as a letter, a promise from an old friend. On Ascension, we are reminded that we will see Jesus again. Just as he said.
The Ascension is an unusual event. Following the significant drama of the Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion, death and resurrection, the Ascension is easy to miss. Standing with his disciples on a hilltop outside Jerusalem, Jesus offers a few parting remarks to the disciples, and then the gospel writer Luke writes, “When Jesus had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1.6ff) Just like that, like candle smoke ascending from the flame, Jesus rose and was gone. Poof!
The disciples couldn’t quite believe their eyes; they just kept looking at the sky. Where did he go? Later, they remembered that the last they had seen of their risen Lord was the bottoms of his feet. Two men in white robes (the same two men in white robes who had been lounging in Jesus’ empty tomb?) snapped them back to reality: “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come to you in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”
Jesus’ Ascension is an odd little imagining of what it will be like when we see Jesus again, and perhaps, when we will see one another again. Maybe that grand reunion will be underwhelming in its ordinariness—like a puff of smoke, like a sunbeam through a cloud, like a smile we had almost forgotten. With the church, we long for that day when Jesus will return, in the same way we saw him go. And, with the church, we long for that day when our loved ones will be restored to us.
Sunday morning marks the Seventh Sunday of Easter. We will read from Acts, about the selection of a disciple to take Judas’ place, and we will overhear Jesus pray for us. After worship, we invite you to remain on the zoom call for “All Ascension Reads: Redlining.” It is a fascinating book and, even if you’ve not been able to read it, you are welcome to listen in.
Today, in the afterglow of Jesus’ Ascension, I give thanks for the promise of reunion—with Jesus, with loved ones who still live in our hearts. Today, we trust the Easter/Ascension angels: “You will see him come just as you saw him go.” But, will the bottoms of his feet still be dirty?
“See” you Sunday,
Pastor JoAnn Post