ASCENSION 2013 C
Jesus tells the Apostles, “You will be my witnesses.. to the ends of the earth.” That then is our task: to be witnesses: to experience and to tell others about it.
You can’t give witness to something that you have not experienced. You came here this morning quite freely. You know that it is in celebrating his Eucharist and deepening our friendship we find life. You actually know God quite well. It is this that the people in the world around us want to know about. They thirst for meaning and purpose; all too often they find themselves filling up the empty holes in their lives with material possessions, and all kinds of inappropriate things. I can’t go through a week without meeting someone exactly like that. Someone whose story could be written down: another wandering in a desert for forty years.
They want to see people who do find their lives fulfilling and who have direction and moral purpose.They want to look at us from afar and only later, when they are already convinced that what we are doing is right, come to know us better.
In our text Luke tells us that they worshipped him and went back to Jerusalemfull of joy. That’s exactly how it ought to be for us each Sunday as we return home from the Eucharist, going back to our ordinary lives full of joy and trust in the Lord.
Our neighbours see us go to mass every Sunday morning. But it’s how they see us coming back that is our real witness to them.
But the ascension is here presented, not as the inauguration of the period of the Church—which it also is—but as the conclusion of the earthly ministry of Jesus.It is a farewell scene, as is indicated by the blessing.
For several weeks we have been prepared for this feast. We have been hearing Jesus prepare his disciples for his leaving. I must say the readings this year have caused me to pause as I myself prepare to leave. Does the Ascension have anything that it could teach me as pastor and you as congregation? Fr. Ron Rollheiser, an Oblate confrere, shares these insights. Ascension can offer an insight into life that we need to understand to better sort out the paradoxical interplay between life and death, presence and absence, love and loss.
He says that “the Ascension names and highlights a paradox that lies deep at the center of life, namely, that we all reach a point in life where we can only give our presence more deeply by going away so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits.” What does that mean?
When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth he kept repeating the words: "It is better for you that I go away! You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don't go away you will be unable to receive my spirit. Don't cling to me, I must ascend."
Why is it better sometimes that we go away?
He gives the comparison of parents in relationship to their grown children: “Any parent with grown children has heard similar words from their children, unspoken perhaps but there nonetheless. When young people leave home to go to college or to begin life on their own, what they are really saying to their parents is: "Mum and dad, it is better that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don't go, I will always be your little boy or little girl but I will be unable to give you my life as an adult. So please don't cling to the child you once had or you will never be able to receive my adulthood. I need to go away now so that our love can come to full bloom." ”
The pain in this kind of letting go is often excruciating, as parents know, but to refuse to do that is to truncate life.
The same is true for the mystery of death. At the time of the death of a parent there is an overwhelming sense of being orphaned, abandoned, of losing a vital life-connection. Today being Mothers Day, we recognize the life and nurturing we have received from our mothers. The loss of my mother as the magnet of our family was immense. But time is a great healer. After a while, the coldness disappears and their deaths no longer carry the same pain. Their presence is felt again as a warm, nurturing spirit with us all time. Now it seems they can give their love and blessing in a way that they never could fully while they were alive. Their going away creates a deeper and purer presence.
The mystery of love and intimacy contains that paradox: To remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent. Death and separation wash clean and release the spirit and, even in the case of people who struggled to love, in death or separation the parties are able to receive the blessing in way they never could while they were alive or together. Able to focus on the good that brought them together they can forgive and be healed of the rash that was caused by rubbing one another the wrong way.
"It is better for you that I go away!" These are painful words most of the time, from a young child leaving her mother for a day to go to school, to the man leaving his family for a week to go on a business trip, to the young man moving out of his family's house to begin life on his own, to a pastor leaving his parish, to a loved one saying goodbye in death. Separation hurts, goodbyes bring painful tears, and death of every kind wrenches the heart.
But that is part of the mystery of love. Eventually we all reach a point where what is best for everyone is that we go away so that we can give our spirit.
My hope is that whatever good we have done together in these last six years will somehow mature in my absence. If we have created community and communion here these last years, it will deepen and satisfy. If we have become a more inclusive parish, what has begun will bear greater fruit. If we have become more deeply committed to work for the common good with others of faith and non-faith we will develop more deeply an awareness of our role in building a just society. That we can become caring neighbours. That the community around us, rather than dismiss us with their prejudice, will be won over by our genuine care and friendship. That our parishes will grow not with more people coming from Richmondbut from Pender Street. That you as parishioners rather than stagnate or disperse in my absence, rally together with a new urgency to Imagine Sacred Heart, St. Paul’s and Kateri Centre. That we will become a Centre for the Sacred Spirit!