Ascension Sunday: His Departure Hurts

“How many minutes does it take to get to heaven after we die?”

My son Wilder’s question comes quick off the heels of a litany of other questions that I, at the age of 38, still don’t know how to answer. The multitude of sermons and seminary lectures race through my head, “ you will be with me in paradise”, purgatory and a cleansing period, chosen versus adopted as a child of God. I force myself to focus on his face tucked deep in the back seats of our van. How do we bring his curiosity and innocence to understand an unconditional loving God?

The details are a little murky to navigate with certainty, but my husband (Andrew) and I both prayed the salvation prayer when we were 6 years old and we turned out okay spiritually, I guess. So, now in the van on our way to the ferry we dance through the complexity of this moment. I don’t want death and heaven to sound too exciting and I don’t want it to sound too scary either.

“For something to die, something must live.” (Nikki Giovanni)

I think about it being the end of Eastertide this weekend, the middle ground waiting when we watch our Resurrected Savior ascend into the clouds, leaving us to wait for His return.

Our visiting pastor this morning was brilliant in all of her wisdom and teaching heart, Rachel Clinton described the Ascension of Jesus after His resurrection to be filled with the complexity of hope and longing. The followers of Christ, His disciples who loved and served a Risen King, one who defeated death was now leaving them, and His departure hurt. I imagine all of Christ’s followers looking up at the sky watching their Savior disappear like a balloon making its way into the unseen atmosphere. Twice in three months they endured the trauma of His leaving. The crucifixion and now the Ascension mark twice being left. Being a human that knows the trauma of being left, I feel a lot in these Sunday sermons.

I don’t know there to be more than a minute between death and eternal life or at least this is what I hope for. I want to tell my kids, don’t worry, when Jesus saves you, it is instantaneous that heaven is your reality. Truthfully, that is not my experience in my life; salvation, heaven and eternal wholeness takes a while to get to...not to mention it has to pass through some kind of a death.

“How many minutes does it take to get to heaven after we die?”

How do I explain to my children that death does sting a bit; not eternally, but in the minutes, hours, and years we must endure waiting, away from heaven. How do I teach my kids about being powerful in their powerlessness? How do I teach them not to fear the time lived between life and death and death and eternal life?

Andrew and I muddled through a salvation prayer, we actually get in a little fight as we offer the kids a few phrases to repeat after us; to which none of them did repeat. In the awkward silence that followed our prayer, we asked our kids if they wanted to pray and ask Jesus into their hearts. It was the pause led us to wonder if we had botched the moment in a huge parenting fail, when Wilder spoke up,

“Actually, I want to wait until the last day of school to ask God into my heart.”

I chuckled away the momentary fear and shame I felt when I heard his answer...maybe my kids know more about trusting God with their lives than I do. They don’t seem at all worried about it, they don’t fear something happening or the struggle of living in between the carnal and the eternal. They love God and at the same time are VERY okay waiting in the in between, they are at peace with God’s love for them and full of faith...and you can bet I am taking notes from them.

I am looking forward to the last day of school, I can’t wait to hear the proper way to ask God into my heart.

I plan to repeat the words after my boy as he prays.