Last week at Kids’ Club, Arthur read to the kids from the Children’s Bible about Ascension Day – when Jesus went up to heaven 40 days after Easter Sunday. We usually ask the children to listen carefully because at the end of the story there would be questions, and if they answered correctly there would be a reward (usually involving sweets). You would have thought that the promise of rewards would help the kids concentrate and listen well, but where the enthusiasm was there and they all raised their hands to answer questions, the responses were often pure guess work. Needless to say, they received a lot of hints from the helpers – God forbid that anyone should miss out on a sweet!
This made me think that perhaps as grown-ups we are not any better. You see, when Jesus was with his disciples, he told them what was going to happen – that he was going to be killed and then raised to life, and that he was going away. Right up to the moment that all these things happened, and even a bit afterwards, the disciples hadn’t taken it in. If they heard what Jesus said, they hadn’t processed it. I imagine that the disciples loved being around their Teacher, and they can be forgiven in wanting Jesus to remain with them forever – life was going to be so good when the kingdom of heaven comes. After all, Jesus did teach about the coming kingdom an awful lot. Perhaps much like we dangle the carrot at Kids’ Club with the promise of sweets if correct answers are given, and the children know that they will be rewarded anyway. Who isn’t excited by that thought?
To me, the Ascension speaks of God being a loving and wise parent. Let me explain – Jesus always carried out God the Father’s plans, which reach far beyond the here and now. He wasn’t there only for his disciples whilst he walked on this earth, as he clearly stated that he had “other sheep that are not of this sheep pen”. (John 10:16) Jesus’ ascension meant that God could send the disciples the Holy Spirit, without whom they would not have been empowered to preach the gospel. Like a good parent, Jesus prepared ahead for the time when his followers would have to cope without him being around physically. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:18) But he also said, “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) .
I admit, if I were one of his disciples listening to Jesus back then, his messages would seem a bit conflicting, and I wouldn’t have been able to understand what he was going on about! The penny hasn’t dropped, as one would say. As a parent myself, I often wish that my own kids would take on board what I have told them countless times, especially the more important life lessons. Sometimes one cannot tell whether they have or not, until the opportune time comes or a certain situation arises. I’d like to think that when I cannot be there for them, whatever their age, somewhere at the back of their minds will surface some useful advice their parents have given them!
You know, it is not a deliberate act of disrespect – they are good kids, just as the Kids’ Club children are good kids; just as the disciples and us followers of Christ are good people – sometimes it just isn’t the right time for us to grasp it yet. One day hopefully we will, but in the meantime, life isn’t all plain sailing, and there will be tough times ahead. It would be reassuring to have someone to guide and comfort us along the way, even to journey with us. This is what God did. Like a loving parent, God prepared a way for us all not to have to deal with it all on our own.
Our prayers are that God will comfort and heal, give us strength and hope, and walk amongst the broken-hearted.
In the account in Acts chapter 1, just after Jesus was taken up into heaven, two angels appeared next to the disciples and said, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) Perhaps it suddenly dawned on the disciples that they had to fend for themselves like bereft children, and perhaps the angels appeared in order to give them a helping hand and point them in the right direction. But I would also like to think that they were there to stand with them for a little while to give them moral support and to remind them of the hope they longed for. Jesus’ ascension isn’t the end. The Holy Spirit will come to comfort and guide them, to give them strength and to remind them of their hope.
This week’s atrocities in Manchester left many people shocked, bereft and deeply affected. However, there have been so many people from around the country and the world who offered support and prayers for the victims’ families, and many of us, like those two angels on Ascension Day, stand with the people of Manchester. Our prayers are that God will comfort and heal, give us strength and hope, and walk amongst the broken-hearted.