I wonder if the disciples knew that this would be the day…
They must have got rather used to Jesus appearing and disappearing over the past 40 days. He would come, teach them about the Kingdom of God and open their minds to understand the scriptures just as he had done on the Road to Emmaus. He would explain to them how he fulfilled the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, how he was indeed the promised Messiah who came to bring repentance and forgiveness of sins for all nations. He would speak to them about the Holy Spirit which would come soon and they were to wait in Jerusalem for. He would commission them as his witnesses. He would commission them to tell others what they had seen and heard.
I wonder if the disciples knew that this would be the day when Jesus would ascend to heaven rather than just disappear…that this would be the last time on earth when they would see their Lord and friend. Of course there needed to be an end to Jesus’ time on earth for otherwise he would be restricted to a time and place, otherwise the Holy Spirit would not come, otherwise he would not have been able to dwell in the heart of every believer and this way it was a clear end, not a fading out which might have damaged the disciples’ faith, but a visible ending of his earthly ministry.
For Peter, James and John, there must have been memories of another mountain, an earlier occasion when a cloud of the glory of God enveloped Jesus, of two other heavenly visitors. For they had been given a glimpse of who Jesus really was at the transfiguration, they had heard the voice of God come from the cloud and declare ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’. This time though the disciples were not overcome with fear. This time they just watched, gazing up towards heaven as Jesus was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.
This time it was not Moses and Elijah who they saw with Jesus but two angels. Angels who came to tell them that Jesus had returned to his Father but would come again. Angels who reminded them that they were commissioned to be witnesses not star-gazers, that their vision was not to be upwards in nostalgia to the heaven which had received Jesus, but outwards in compassion to a lost world that desperately needed him, a broken world that still needs him today. The disciples were assured that Christ will come again; he will come personally, visibly, gloriously, but meanwhile they were to get on with the task he had given them of being Spirit empowered witnesses.
How did the disciples respond? What a difference those 40 days with the Risen Christ had made. They were no longer the devastated and disappointed people they had been on Good Friday. They were not even the confused people Jesus discovered on Easter day. Now they worshipped Christ and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and soon they would be filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jesus had promised them and become the powerful witnesses Jesus called them to be.
Like the disciples, we have come to the house of God today to worship him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to bless him and to pray that he would pour out his Spirit on us so that we may continue the task Jesus gave his disciples to be his witnesses to the ends of the world.
Revd Rebecca Fardell