On Thursday of this week the church calendar notes a pretty significant event in the life of Jesus—Ascension Day. It is the celebration of the day the apostles saw Jesus rise into the clouds to take his place at the right hand of the God the Father. You can read Luke’s two-part account of the event in Luke 24:49-53 and Acts 1:1-10.
The story is fascinating in its details and I always try to imagine what it would be like to stand with the disciples as Jesus disappeared above them. He had done his very best to prepare his friends for this but Luke still tells us that two angels appeared saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” But seriously, what else would you do after that?
Think of the emotional roller coaster the disciples had been on in the past few weeks. One of their own betrayed Jesus to the authorities and the rest abandoned him when he was arrested. He was killed and the discipled despaired in hiding. Then he was raised to life and renewed their broken relationship. He spent 40 days with them in a resurrected body doing inexplicable things like walking through walls and appearing out of nowhere. And Jesus repeatedly promised them that when he left to be with the Father they would receive an even better gift (John 16:7-8), the Holy Spirit.
We, like the disciples, often wish for a real, flesh and blood Jesus who could sit with us at meals and be with us at the end of a difficult day. And we do have a real embodied Jesus on our side but he has taken his rightful place reigning with God the Father and interceding for us until the day he returns. It is not possible for Jesus to be everywhere at once (or live in everyone’s heart) because he has forever been made a person with a body, now resurrected but still physical. Because he was raised from the dead and reigns with God the Father and we have the certain hope that we will do the same.
Where is Jesus when you need him? While we wait for the coming kingdom of God, what do we do when we need Jesus with us? He has not abandoned us and or left us without help. The disciples returned to Jerusalem and waited for 10 days for the “even better” gift that God would send. On the Day of Pentecost all the gathered followers of Jesus received the Holy Spirit. Immediately after that we read that the disciples began preaching in the streets, healing sick people, and the followers of Jesus multiplied in numbers to form the first church. If Jesus is “God with us” then the Holy Spirit is “God in us.”
The Holy Spirit is the presence of God in us empowering us to join in the work of the Kingdom of God, initiated by Jesus and continued by his Spirit-filled people. The Holy Spirit is with us always to remind us of the words of Jesus, to correct and guide, to comfort, to pour out love in our hearts, and to empower us for the work of the Kingdom. As we begin the home stretch of the Easter Season, heading for Pentecost, remember that God loves his people so much that not only did he send his son Jesus to die and be raised from the dead for us. He also sent the Holy Spirit to remain with us so the we are never without his help.