They could see the head, but they could not yet see the body. We can see the body, but we believe about the head. They are two: husband and wife, head and body, Christ and the church. He showed himself to the disciples and promised them the church. He showed us the church and ordered us to believe about himself. The apostles saw one thing, but they did not see the other. We also see one thing and do not see the other. Having the head there with them, they believed about the body. Having the body here with us, we should believe about the head.1
There is still more for you to hear. He ascends into heaven, accompanied by the eyes of the disciples gazing after him. He lets them observe it, and he makes them witnesses.… They certainly saw, touched and felt him. They confirmed their faith by looking at him and touching him. They accompanied him with their gaze as he ascended into heaven. With attentive ears, they heard the angel’s voice assuring them and foretelling that Christ would come again.
All these things were completed for them. Neither sight alone nor handling of the Lord’s limbs was still enough to ensure that they would become witnesses of Christ and bravely endure everything for the preaching of the truth, fighting against falsehood even to the shedding of their blood. Who gave them such a capability? Listen to the Lord himself. “Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” “You have seen and touched, but you are still not able to preach and die for what you have seen and touched, until you are clothed with power from on high. Let human beings go now and attribute it to their own powers, if they can do anything. There was Peter, and he had not yet been confirmed in the rock. He had not yet been clothed with power from on high, because “nobody can receive anything, unless it has been given him from heaven.”2
“Then he led them out to Bethany, and lifting up his hands, he blessed them.” Our Redeemer appeared in the flesh to take away sins, remove what humans deserved because of the first curse, and grant believers an inheritance of everlasting blessing. He rightly concluded all that he did in the world with words of blessing. He showed that he was the very one of whom it was said, “For indeed he who gave the law will give a blessing.” It is appropriate that he led those whom he blessed out to Bethany, which is interpreted “house of obedience.” Contempt and pride deserved a curse, but obedience deserved a blessing. The Lord himself was made obedient to his Father even unto death, so that he might restore the lost grace of blessing to the world. He gives the blessing of heavenly life only to those who strive in the holy church to comply with the divine commands.3
We must not pass over the fact that Bethany is on the slope of the Mount of Olives. Just as Bethany represents a church obedient to the commands of the Lord, so the Mount of Olives quite fittingly represents the very person of our Lord. Appearing in the flesh, he excels all the saints, who are simply human beings, by the loftiness of his dignity and the grace of his spiritual power. We chant to him in the Psalms, “God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of happiness above your companions.” The present Gospel reading bears witness that he promised the favor of the same holy anointing to his companions, the faithful. He sent what he had promised, as we know, not long after that. It is delightful to hear how the house of obedience, the holy church, is built on the slope of the Mount of Olives. Let us read the Gospel of John where it said that when his suffering on the cross was fulfilled, “one of the soldiers opened his side with a lance, and immediately blood and water came out.” These truly are the sacraments by which the church is born and nourished in Christ. These are the water of baptism that cleanses the church from sins and the blood of the Lord’s chalice that confirms its gifts. It is also signed with the chrism of the Holy Spirit. The mountain on whose slope the holy city is situated, on which the gift of blessing is given, is properly called the Mount of Olives that it may be capable of being perfected on the day of redemption.4
- SERMON 229I.1. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 388). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMON 265D.6. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 390). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 11.15. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 391). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 11.15. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (pp. 391–392). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.