Next Thursday (21 May) the church celebrates the occasion when the risen Jesus ascended back up into heaven. I often wonder what was going through the hearts and minds of the disciples in that moment. They had spent the best part of three years ministering with him, learning from him and watching him do unbelievable things. They saw Jesus arrested, beaten, flogged and hung on a cross to die. Three days later he appeared to them alive and interacted with them numerous times. And now, forty days later, out of the blue, ‘he left them and was taken up into heaven’ (Luke 24:51). I’m thinking, ‘What a roller coaster of emotions! Those disciples must have been so guttered.’ But the very next words are, ‘Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy’ (v52).
My biggest takeaway from the ascension account is that the followers of Jesus no longer had to go to a physical person or place in order to worship him. This was made all the more evident ten days later at Pentecost when they were filled with the Holy Spirit. As Jesus explained to them just before he ascended, ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations’ (v47). This is why the current situation of continuing Sunday worship online at home is just as valid, because it isn’t a physical place or person we gather around, rather we gather around the name of Jesus, which is made known to us in God’s Word, the Bible.
One of the significant impacts of COVID-19 for our learning is the restriction on physically coming together as a whole community for chapels and devotions. For many, there is a real sense of loss about this. We are social creatures and we are created to live in community. But given the physical restrictions, we have not lost what is of most importance – whether it be in isolation or online, to be able to gather around the name of Jesus as revealed to us in God’s Word, to be reassured of his love and forgiveness which empowers us to embrace the future with confidence and hope.
Thank you to all the students, staff, chaplains and pastors who are discovering creative ways to share and live the good news of Jesus Christ with their communities amidst the current restrictions of COVID-19. Sharing the name of Jesus is central to who we are as Lutheran education because ultimately it is in him that we find a sense of confidence and hope in times of uncertainty.
Spiritual and Cultural Leader