From Pauses for Pentecost
While Jesus was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into Heaven.
Goodbyes are painful. They happen in so many different ways. Someone we love immigrates to a country across the ocean, gets transferred to work in another city, or leaves for college far away. Perhaps the hardest parting of all is when we gather together at a funeral to take leave of someone whom we have loved for a long time and who has loved us as well. Feelings of numbness, grief, and sadness mark these heart-aching and heartbreaking moments. We all know departures only too well.
Yet there is something intriguingly strange and wonderfully different about Jesus’s goodbye. Gospel writer Luke tells us that when he withdrew from them, “They worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy,” (Luke 24:52). The disciples have finally come to grasp who Jesus was and is. He is far more than a good prophet of God’s reign or a brilliant teacher of God’s values. They now know that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, they have encountered the God of the Old Testament in a direct, personal, and firsthand way. Their only adequate response is joyful worship. But now he has to leave them and return to the Heavenly realms.
In the desolation and despair of our goodbye moments, let us draw courage from the ascended Christ. There is someone in Heaven, available to each of us in our pain, who understand what it means to say goodbye. This is what the disciples now know. This is why they can part from Jesus with joy. His ascension is the final confirmation of his victory over evil and death. He withdraws, but from now on his loving and consoling presence will not be localized to one geographical spot. His living presence is now freely and infinitely available to every human being everywhere through all time. Ascension-shaped Easter people know this and celebrate it, even with the tears of our goodbyes in our eyes.
Bring to the risen and ascended Christ a recent goodbye. Speak with him about it, share with him your feelings, and listen to what he may say to you. Throughout the day, keep the image of the ascended Christ in your heart.