Acts 1:8-11 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses . . . After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching . . . Two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”
John 17:11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world, but I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are.
Karis used to say her idea of heaven was having all the people she loved in one place. As time passes, more and more she is getting her wish. This week, one more of her Beloveds has joined her there. Marian Kreithen played an important role both in Karis’s life and mine, and her Homegoing has reminded me of the Father’s love and care for us through Marian and others in the small group family he placed us in during our first years here in Pittsburgh.
Karis and I didn’t know a single person in Pittsburgh when we moved here to await her intestinal transplant. To say we were stressed is an understatement. Far from home and family and friends, I don’t know how we would have survived without the small group from Ascension, our new church, that rallied around us. They listened to us and prayed for us and encouraged us through Scripture. They shared their own lives with us, giving us a new circle of friends. They visited Karis in the hospital. Often, they fed us. They helped us move from a room to an apartment, and from that apartment to a house. We came to Pittsburgh with nothing; they helped furnish both the apartment and the house, even providing us with a car. They provided hospitality when family members were able to visit. They provided a getaway place where we could rest and renew our strength and nurture our family. That place was where we went the day Karis died.
Karis asked Marian to mentor her. I’m not sure what that mentoring consisted of. I was just the driver, taking Karis to meet Marian at her house, helping her up the long sets of stairs, until Karis couldn’t do it anymore. The time came when neither Karis nor Marian (suffering from congestive heart failure) could handle those stairs, and their conversations took place by phone. Karis loved and admired Marian deeply, profiting from her faith and wisdom. And now they are together again, along with Martha, another group member who went to Heaven before Karis.
On this Ascension Day, I am grateful for a representation of Jesus’ Ascension sent by my sister-in-law Elaine. This is the earliest known surviving depiction of the Ascension, carved in ivory around 400 AD. In addition to all the other rich imagery in this carving, I love, love, love this conception of Jesus going to his Father. Not just away from, but to . . . not only leaving loved ones behind, but going to joyful reunion with his greatest love.
This image comforts me as I think about Marian, the Father’s hand stretched out to meet her. And Karis. And Kaleb. And Crysta. And Ravi Zacharias, though I didn’t know him personally. And each one of our beloveds who have joined the community of joy in Heaven.
And I’m intrigued by the thought of Jesus returning in the same way he went away, hand in hand with the Father.
Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne (Hebrews 12:1-2).