Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worship him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
Suddenly, the disciples were without their guide, their teacher and leader. They no longer had an authority figure in their midst to tell them what to do. Someone “at the top” no longer could explain everything to them. Yet, Luke says that they worshipped him.
When I was about 14, my mom asked me to cook dinner for the six men my dad had helping him with the wheat harvest. She had taken a job in town and I was needed to fill her shoes in the kitchen. She would not be there to watch over the meal preparations and correct my mistakes. I had been with her in the kitchen many times and helped with cooking lots of dishes, but to plan the meal, and prepare the whole thing myself was much different. The meal I planned was fried potatoes, Salisbury steak with gravy, baked beans and cornbread. After peeling and slicing the potatoes I realized I had not soaked the dried beans overnight and it was going to take longer for them to cook. Timing was everything, and I was obviously going to be late getting this meal to the men in the field.
After a few mistakes like that, getting the cornbread cooked at the last minute, and boiling the beans as long as possible before I mixed them with the sauces and put them in the oven to bake, I was already late with this meal. I finally loaded everything into our pickup truck, sat down behind the steering wheel, popped the clutch and took off down the field with the meal and three gallons of iced tea.
I was nervous when I uncovered the food for their lunch, but they ate every bite, even though the beans were a bit chewy. My dad gently gave me a few suggestions as I went about picking up the left-overs to take back to the house. I obviously had much to learn about meal preparation, and feeding a crew of hungry men. Yet I somehow knew that my parents had trusted me to prepare lunch for the men in the field, just like my mom had been doing.
All morning long in my mother’s absence, I nervously went about the cooking operation trying to remember how to season this or that, how to make gravy at the right consistency, how to make everything come together at the same time (which did not happen). It was definitely a learning experience.
Yet my mother’s absence was a sign to me that she trusted what she had taught me, and she also trusted me. Her absence was somehow empowering rather than disabling. It authorized me to trust myself and trust what she had taught me. I would never have learned to cook a meal for six men had I kept working anxiously under her critical eye, hanging on to every gesture and comment from her.
This, I believe is how the disciples must have felt as they left the place where Jesus departed from them into heaven. He had loved them, taught them, and now he was giving them the commission to go and give his message of love and hope to the world, with the promise that he would be with them in the Holy Spirit. He chose to leave his ministry to them. These were the same ones who were capable in one breath of inspired declarations of faith and in the next breath bumbling it so badly that Jesus calls one of them Satan. Jesus chose to trust his mission to these disciples—just as he chooses us with that same mission.
This church that is capable of great acts of faith in one moment and then bumbling it badly in the next, Jesus trusts us with his human and divine mission.
Just like I was trying to remember how my mother used to season this dish or that, or how long I should cook something, we too in our human frailties make mistakes in sharing the message of God’s love with others. But we can rest assured that Jesus has given us the mission and we can do it. It is 2,000 years later and we haven’t destroyed the church yet, and we won’t, because God is God and we are not. We are entrusted with a part of the mission, but it is God who gives us his blessing and power from on high.
We can leave the results of our work in God’s hands. Every Via de Cristo Weekend is a testimony to that great truth.
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.