Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Nearly 30 years ago, comic Howard Mohr captured the regional peculiarities of language in a book entitled, “How to Talk Minnesotan.” It was his attempt to demystify the Minnesota experience with chapters dedicated to such nuanced phrases as, You bet, That’s different and Whatever. He also described a phenomenon known as the Minnesota Long, Goodbye- the art of leaving in Minnesota. Surprisingly, the book has been in print ever since, and has even been given a new look in its most recent edition, “How to Talk Minnesotan Updated for the 21st Century.”
Since everyone today is texting and emailing, Mohr was asked how the Minnesota Long Goodbye works in our virtual world? He answered, “The Long Goodbye is still solidly in place in small-towns and rural Minnesota when your guests are getting ready to leave for home after a visit and you can walk them out to their car in the driveway and chat for a few minutes through the rolled-down window. Clearly a long goodbye when your friends leave your 30th-floor condo would be pretty cumbersome. But I think a text message from the hosts after the ‘departees’ get into their car or on the Hiawatha line would be obligatory.”
But Jesus’ Ascension into heaven shouldn’t be confused with a Minnesota, Long Goodbye, even though there is something familiar and comfortable about his last fleeting farewell. Jesus’ disciples had followed their master out of the city of Jerusalem to Bethany, and from there Jesus departed them in an act of blessing as they clouds received him and took him out of their sight.
But it wasn’t just the Lord’s familiar act of blessing. It was something about the lifting of Jesus’ hands. These were the same hands that had healed the sick, and comforted those who had lost loved ones. These were the same caring hands that had touched the eyes of the blind man and gave him sight. These were the same strong hands which had been so quick to stretch out to rescue Peter when he was sinking in the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Yes, these were the hands uplifted offering a blessing.
And yet they were different. These were now the pierced and living hands which the disciples had seen from afar placed lifeless into the tomb, and were studied on the third day when Jesus rose from the dead. These were scarred hands that the incredulous and doubting Thomas needed to see and touch before he could believe in the risen Lord. These were the uplifted hands of blessing, the hands once nailed to the cross, that the disciples saw as Jesus was taken from their sight.
A Long, Goodbye, perhaps, but there was also something wonderfully surprising. Jesus’ disciples did not go away from Bethany that day sorrowful, or mourning the loss of their master. Instead, we read that that as they returned to Jerusalem they worshiped him with great joy, and praised God in the temple day after day. They certainly did not seem to be experiencing Jesus as being absent from their lives.
We don’t have to look too far back into St. Luke’s gospel to find a similar story when Jesus’ followers experienced this same phenomenon. The disciples on the Emmaus road did not recognize Jesus even as he walked and talked with them. They were caught up in their own loss and grief. It was only later when Jesus’ pierced hand broke the bread that his living presence was made known to them. In that moment, they experienced his presence fully, and then just as quickly, he was no longer visible to them. These disciples too ran back to Jerusalem overjoyed.
No, Jesus’ ascension was not a Minnesota Long Goodbye. Instead, I would prefer to call it the Heaven Long, I Am With You. In those forty days after his resurrection, the disciples had grown to understand that their risen Jesus was not going someplace else merely to show up now and again capriciously. He would be taken from their sight, enshrouded by clouds, but he would never be absent from their lives. They knew he would be real and present in the washing of baptism, in the breaking of bread, in the reading of scripture, and in the consolation of prayer. And it is there, that you and I are invited to experience the hiddenness of Jesus’ uplifted and pierced hands of blessing as well.
My friends, in the moments when it is seems that God is unaware of you and your cries, be assured that the ascended Lord is with you and is only hidden from your sight. He hears your prayer. When it seems that everyone has abandoned you, and you are battling the world alone, be assured that the ascended and hidden Lord is with you and that he is fighting on your side. When it seems that your Savior has disappeared in to the heavens, be assured that he has merely been taken from your sight, but that he is with you. Yes, the loving hand of Jesus with its nail-prints, still knocks at the door of your heart. That same pierced hand, with its deep marks of love, beckons you to enter into his joy here and now. Jesus’ ascension is not a long goodbye. It is a Heaven Long, I Am With You. He has merely been taken from your sight. And his uplifted hands of blessing are still opening the way for you to experience God’s love and new beginnings. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.