“Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.” Luke 24: 50
This year, May 13 was set aside in the church year to remember the ascension of our Lord. As we say in the Apostles’ Creed, “he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
When I was a child, I remember looking at an artist’s rendering of this scene from Luke 24. Jesus, in a flowing white robe, is ascending upward with arms outstretched in blessing. I don’t remember the artist, nor even the context of the picture. I do remember the scene, and the emotional impact of the risen Savior’s blessing.
When ministry gets hard or the church is struggling, I think of this picture. Imagine the last thing Jesus did on this earth was to bless the disciples to bless us. No wonder the Christian witness has survived and thrived through two millennia!
The blessing of Jesus still stands and is at work in the power of the Holy Spirit. This doesn’t mean that the form of the church in any given age will remain. But it does mean that God’s Spirit will be at work confirming Christ’s blessing on those who follow him, no matter what fellowship or shape that discipleship takes.
At least three times in my lifetime, I have read or heard the prediction that the Christian church was dying. These predictions come from social scientists, commentators, and now, scientists, themselves. In each case, history proved the prediction short-sighted and wrong.
The blessing of the ascended Christ stands . . . the opinions of others will not. That doesn’t mean that we don’t take such predictions seriously. Instead, let us use them as invitations for self-examination and change; let us use them as opportunities to be clearer in why we believe what we believe.
And, in the face of such predictions, let us remember that the form of our faith is not the same as the substance and fruit of our faith.
As Christ continues to bless Christ’s universal church, may we be empowered to be strong in faith and humble in self examination.
May all joy be yours in believing!