This stretch of the Church Year always makes me think of the Virgin Mary. That probably comes as no surprise, but still, what that poor woman had to endure over the course of a month and a half, no mother should have to endure. Mothers have a special connection with sons; I watched my poor mother-in-law as she watched her son drive off on his move to California a couple weeks ago, and it was just heartbreaking. And so think about poor Mary, who watched her Son suffer as He did, get Him back alive three days later, only to watch Him fly off to His Dad forty days later. One wonders if Mary tried to petition for joint custody.
Given a choice, I suppose we’d all rather say “Hello” than “Goodbye.” We’d all prefer to say “Welcome home!” as opposed to saying, “Have a good trip.” Watching the news on television, we may get tears in our eyes both when we watch soldiers leaving their families to go off to war and when we watch soldiers returning home to the hugs and cheers of spouses and children. We may shed some tears at both spectacles but we also know that the first kind of tear, the farewell tear, is heartbreaking whereas the second kind of tear, the welcome home tear, is joyful.
And so we ponder being in the Season of Easter post-Ascension Day. We are simultaneously asked to be joyful in the act of Jesus being raised from the dead and somehow not saddened by the act of Jesus leaving us again. That dichotomy can be disconcerting for us, and it certainly was for Mary and the disciples. Jesus had risen from the dead, cementing His status as the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of His people and of the whole world. Expectations must have been high: would Jesus finally summon the army everyone thought He would? Would He call down the angels and kick Caesar’s armies back to Rome? What was the next move? After the Resurrection, His disciples asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” “In other words, “Jesus, are we finally going to get moving and kick some butt for God!?”
Jesus’ answer was “Yes and no.” It is not for you to know when things will happen, Jesus said, that’s for our Father in heaven to worry about. But you will receive power, real power, when the Holy Spirit descends upon you. Your work is not so much to restore the kingdom of Israel, but to witness to the Kingdom of God. My work, Jesus seemed to say, is to go home to my Father, bringing the substance of humanity with me. And with that, Jesus ascended into heaven.
So why did He go? Well, for any number of reasons, reasons we need not question or worry about. But one reason Jesus ascended to heaven was so that He could stand at the throne of His Father and say the same things we heard Him say in the Gospel we just heard.
Blessed John overheard that remarkable conversation Jesus had with His Father, and he was good enough to let us in on what he heard. “I pray for them,” Jesus said to the Father, “I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours….Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” The remarkable thing about this prayer of Jesus is that as confident He is in His disciples, He was worried about them. Maybe He had some idea about what was to happen to them, the obstacles they would face, the ends they would meet. Just as Jesus prayed for them, He is still there at that throne, praying for us.
Even knowing that, we would all rather say hello than say goodbye. The good news is that someday the Kingdom will be restored on earth; the good news is that one day we will stop having to say goodbye; one day we will see Jesus come back the same way He went away, and by His intercession, we can gladly say hello.
1. Scott Hoezee, This Week