Our church’s daily Bible reading is progressing through Leviticus and Acts, and I was struck by the concluding scene in Acts 20 where the Ephesian elders send off the Apostle Paul. What would you say if a father (or mother) in the faith told you, “This is the last time you will see my face on this earth.” (vs. 38)? Jesus prepared his Church to expect trials and tribulations. He prepared them to look past the grave and stand confidently in the promise of eternal life. So, when the authorities executed their friends, they wept and “made great lamentation” but also mixed their mourning with confidence that this was not the final end or farewell (Acts 8:2). Now, in Acts 20, the disciples in Ephesus heard their spiritual father say his last goodbye to them. He told them explicitly they would see him in the flesh no more. Now imagine this as a conversation you were having with a person you considered a treasured papa or mama in the faith. How would you respond? Like the Church of old, would you be confident that you would surely meet them again, even while recognizing you would miss them terribly as you walk the narrow path after they have inherited eternal life?
Let’s notice the three major things the Ephesian leaders did on hearing Paul’s farewell: They knelt down, prayed and wept aloud; they embraced Paul and repeatedly kissed him, and finally they accompanied him to the ship on which he would depart from them for the final time. If you have the opportunity to say goodbye to fellow Christians, I would encourage you to follow their pattern.
First, kneel and pray. Take on the posture of a servant and humble yourself and talk to the Father of your soul. Express your gratitude for their friendship and their investment in your life. Talk with God in their presence. Don’t be ashamed if you shed tears and show the strong emotion you are feeling.
Secondly, show affection. These saints embraced and kissed Paul repeatedly. When I shared this nugget with my kids in a morning devotion this week, the image of kissing repelled them. I reminded them that when I tuck them in at night, I always kiss them and affirm my gratitude for their being my kids. I asked them, “How much more do you think that affection will be when I know it will be the last time I get to kiss you on this earth?” Although they were not convinced, the fact is in many cultures around the globe kissing on the cheek, hand or forehead is an act of honor and respect. In India, a portion of the services I participated in at the Indian Pentecostal Church of God had time set aside for, “greeting one another with a brotherly kiss.” You just needed to remember if you were to first kiss the left or right cheek. If you aimed for the wrong cheek, you got a very awkward look in response. hey saw the biblical admonition to “greet each other with a kiss” (Romans 16:16) and therefore did it. These disciples in Ephesus had met Christ through Paul’s ministry. They considered him their spiritual father and grieved his loss with deep sorrow and emotion like any healthy human woul. A kiss on the cheek or some genuine expression of love and affection was totally fitting for them. So, when that time comes to say goodbye to those whose hope is in Christ, et’s follow their example and show affection.
Thirdly, they accompanied Paul to the boat. Another way to say this is they “said their proper goodbyes.” For us, who are 21st century saints, we ought not to pull away. Rather, let’s stay connected. Many Christians don’t know how to entrust their brother (or sister) to the Lord and say goodbye in a God-honoring way and then release them. The reality for Christians is that it will only be a matter of years, ones that will pass very quickly, until we are reunited again with them to reign with Christ for eternity. There is a tendency in all of us to try to cling onto earthly relationships and possessions, instead of viewing them through an eternal lens.
Let us be like these Ephesian leaders: Let’s view departures from an eternal perspective so that, while we grieve the loss of relationships in a healthy way, we still remain confident that it will be only a short time until we are together again.