Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Savior's Final Words Were...

A few days ago, I was in the car and heard part of a podcast about a man who was going to lose his hearing. I can't remember all of the details, and I don't even know what podcast it was, but I was captivated by a concept that it put forward: if you knew that the world was about to go silent, what would you want the last thing you would ever hear to be?

The man in the story had experienced some kind of illness or injury that had already begun to limit his hearing, and his doctors had explained to him that at some point it would fizzle out completely. He was a big fan of music, and there were hundreds of groups and albums that he relished, so he made a playlist. His doctors had told him what symptoms would indicate that his hearing was about to go, and he kept the playlist handy so that he could be sure that the songs running around in his head for the rest of his life would be good ones. When the time came and he knew that the end was near, he put his plan into action.

Part of the man's story was about the woman who would later become his wife. On the day when he woke up and realized that it was going to happen, that he would soon lose his hearing, he made sure to listen to the playlist that he had chosen, and then he did something that he hadn't planned. He sat down at a table with his girlfriend, and he asked her to laugh. Even though they were not married yet, he realized that, if the world was about to go silent, he didn't want to spend the rest of his life unable to remember the sound of his beloved's laugh. He wanted to be able to close his eyes and recall perfectly what it sounded like to hear the love of his life in pure joy.

What would your playlist be? What would you want to hear? If you could pick anything to hear before the world went quiet, what would you choose?

Today, we celebrate the ascension of Jesus into heaven, and, as we do, we encounter the second of Jesus' great farewells. The first came at the Last Supper, the night before he died. At table with his disciples, he looked at them and said, "'I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, 'Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes'" (Luke 22:15-17). There was, of course, a spirit of sadness at that meal. If you read Luke's description of Jesus' last hours with his disciples, they are filled with warnings and correctives, disappointments and disputes. Although Jesus knew that the cross would not be the end, its shadow looms large over his final words with his friends. And, during the days that followed, the disciples were filled with fear, confusion, and heartbreak. But that's not the case with the ascension.

In Luke 24, as he met his disciples in Jerusalem, Jesus said, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." After that, he led his disciples out of the city, as far as Bethany, where he stopped to lift up his hands and bless them. As he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was taken up into heaven. But my favorite part of the story is what happens next: "And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God." What did Jesus say to them that, despite his departure, enabled them to to celebrate with great joy?

Part of it is the resurrection. Part of it is the darkness-become-light that the disciples had experienced before, when they saw that the risen Lord had triumphed over the grave. But, in our experience, even joyful goodbyes with those we love usually carry at least a tinge of sadness. When we send our first child off on his first day of school, when we say goodbye to our daughter at the end of her wedding day, when we leave our children at home for a few days of vacation, there is a part of us that is sad to say goodbye. But not the disciples--at least not as the story is told. Something Jesus said to them--as he opened the scriptures to them yet again or as he blessed them or as he called down from the sky as he began to disappear into the clouds like a balloon on its way to heaven--helped them put aside all sadness and celebrate, despite his departure, with unreserved joy. What was it?

What would you want your savior to whisper in your ear before he left? What would you want Jesus to declare to you before he said goodbye? That's tonight's Theology on Tap question for us to discuss at The Brick later on: "What would you want Jesus' last words to you to be? What words could he speak would fill you with a joy that left no room for sadness?"

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