On Ascension Sunday, we celebrate a holy day in the church that is largely forgotten. It takes place towards the end of the Easter season. It is called the Feast of the Ascension. It marks the fortieth day in the Easter season, when Jesus left us.
The event is recorded in the Book of Acts and in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus gathers his disciples together. He tells them power is going to come to them from on high. He blesses them. And then he is lifted bodily up into the sky. He never appears physically on earth again.
In the forty days previous to this, Jesus had popped in and out so often that the disciples got to thinking he might appear again. Wouldn't that be cool, if Jesus appeared to us in bodily form every now and again? It would be startling, but I would love to see him. I would probably be a bit more careful about how I lived my life too, if I thought he might appear at any moment.
Why did he have to leave? And why do we celebrate his departure? I find it so appropriate that the Feast of the Ascension comes right around the time of Mothers’ Day, because Jesus had to let the disciples grow up. They were dependent on him and he knew that if they were to become all that God called them to be, he must go. And he must leave physically, obviously, once and for all. His departure must be witnessed by many. It had to be made clear that he was not coming back.
When we think of a mother, mostly we think about nurture. We think of a woman holding a baby, or cooking or cleaning. We think of a mother as holding on to her children. But one of the most important things that we can do as parents is let our children grow up and, very importantly, let them leave. I am not saying that you must never see your children again, but all parents put their children in bondage if they do not let them go.
I once knew a young man whose parents had not let him go. They loved him dearly and wanted to protect him from the evils of the world. The young man was very intelligent and so his parents had home-schooled him. They did not take him to play groups or let him participate in the usual social activities of most home-schooled children. They claimed he found it hard to socialize. He went to a local college while living at home and still lived at home at age 30. His parents related to him as if he were 10 or so, and his development was stunted. Because they never were able to let him go, he remained childlike and he had a sadness about him, as if he did not know who he is.
Not only did Jesus leave visibly and purposefully, but he showed us how to do it. If you need to leave someone you love, follow Jesus' example. Before Jesus leaves, he turns to the disciples and he blesses them.
You have the power to bless your loved ones. The word in the Hebrew is barak. It literally means "to kneel before someone." It means to spiritually empower someone else, to say, “I want you to prosper in every area of your life.” To bless is the opposite of cursing or crippling someone. Just as to curse means to disable, hurt or disempower, to bless is to empower a person to thrive spiritually, socially, physically, emotionally and in every other way.
When Jesus told Peter "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven," he meant what he was saying. Peter and all of the disciples were not created to be just followers. They were created to be leaders. And Jesus needed to leave for them to realize their potential.
There is immense confusion between the words disciple and apostle. Disciple means follower. Technically, it refers to the twelve who followed Jesus during his earthy ministry. We also want to be disciples, we want to follow Jesus. But the twelve disciples, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, became apostles when they were sent out into the world to do the work of the gospel. And there were many more apostles sent out, like Paul, Timothy and Titus. To be an apostle means to be sent and anyone who experiences the risen Christ and is sent into the world by Christ can be called an apostle.
Because of the the Ascension, you and I are being sent out. "Time's up!" Jesus says. "It's your turn to do my work. You are all grown-up. Here is my blessing. I know that you are not perfect. I know that my work in you is not complete. But you have everything you need. Go out and bless others. Use your power to make this world better. Usher in the kingdom of heaven."
Have you blessed your children, physically placed your hands on their heads and blessed them? Do you realize that you have the power to do so? Have you blessed your spouse? What about your parents? You don't have to wait for a departure to bless someone. Have you named the ailments of this world and prayed with force that we all be healed? Jesus asks this of you. He has blessed you and he sends you out. You are powerful. You are apostles. Own it.
Let me give you interesting information about two American families dating back 200 years.
Max Jukes was an atheist who married a non-believer. From him, 560 descendants were traced; 310 died paupers, 150 became criminals, seven murderers, 100 were known as drunkards and half the women were prostitutes. The descendants of Max Jukes cost the U.S. government more than 1.25 million 19th-century dollars.
Jonathan Edwards was a contemporary of Max Jukes. He was a Christian who practiced his faith with strength. He was known to have blessed his children. From him and his wife 1,394 descendants can be traced: 295 graduated from college, of whom 13 became college presidents and 65 college professors, three were elected U.S. Senators, three state governors and others were sent as ministers to foreign countries, 30 were judges, 100 were lawyers, one dean of a law school, 56 physicians, one dean of a medical school, 75 officers in the military, 100 missionaries, preachers and prominent authors, 80 held public office of whom three were mayors of large cities, one was comptroller of the U.S. Treasury and another was Vice President of the United States.
I know, there is a lot to consider here, genetics, behavior, etc. but Jonathan Edwards blessed his children. He blessed them when they were born, when they reached puberty, when they married. Over and over again, he blessed them and he let them go.
And you are called to bless, to teach, to heal, just like Jesus. That's why he had to leave, so that you would take up the mantle of his leadership, his ministry. It is time for you to accept your God-given gifts and work to usher in the kingdom of God.