THE ASCENSION AND LEAVE-TAKING

Three days that remain between the Ascension Feast and Pentecost Sunday. Before the curtain falls on the Ascension, we still linger on the drama of Jesus leave-taking, waving his last benediction before ascending to heaven. It is not difficult to imagine what the disciples must have felt then. It did not matter to them then that he had promised he would be back. What mattered now for them was that a moment ago he was standing before them and now he was gone. Their eyes followed him rising until he had disappeared behind the clouds. It took two angels from heaven to shake them from their reverie and rebuke them saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here gazing up to heaven. This Jesus will come back…” The heavenly messengers reminded them to go back to Jerusalem because they had a job to do.

As we reflect on this drama of leave-taking at the Ascension, we are led to ask how we ourselves deal with the inner pain of saying good bye. Whether we are the ones who leave or are the ones left behind, saying good bye to those we care for or who care for us will not be easy.  As air travel becomes so common, airports become scenes of touching goodbye dramas.

As a writer, Bob Perks, shares his experience: yet I do see more than my share of airports.

“I have great difficulties with saying goodbye….When faced with a challenge in my life I have been known to go to our local airport and watch people say goodbye. I figure nothing that is happening to me at the time could be as bad as having to say goodbye. Watching people cling to each other, crying, and holding each other in that last embrace makes me appreciate what I have even more. Seeing them finally pull apart, extending their arms until the tips of their fingers are the last to let go, is an image that stays forefront in my mind throughout the day.”

A few faith-seasoned thoughts will help us cope with the drama of saying good bye.

  1. We have to accept in faith that we are a pilgrim people and that “we have here no lasting city but we seek the one that is to come.” (Heb 13:14).  So, we have to school ourselves to accept the separations and departures that are part of our life here on earth. At the same we have to keep our hearts strong, focused in hope for that city that is to come. In there, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17)
  2. While we are going through the pains of separation and departure, let us draw strength from the experience of Mary as the lifeless body of her son lay on her lap. She is called the Comforter of the Afflicted to help us bear our griefs with courage and peace.
  3. It will help us carry our sadness if we ourselves become instruments Christ’s comforting presence to those in need of comfort. This reminds me of an experience I had of faith sharing on a night bus in the US. As a woman fellow-passenger opened up her problems, her cheeks flooded with tears. She apologized for “baring her life with a complete stranger.” I offered her some words of comfort and faith and she calmed down. We parted ways after a short prayer on the bus. A few weeks later, I got a card from her saying she had found peace. Then she added briefly, with a remark that touched me deeply:  “I have tried as you said to become a living instrument of the presence of Christ to others.”  This she did, among other things, by giving comfort and first aid to elderly women passengers in an accident in the park where she was working as a guide and accompanying them to the hospital. To tend to them, she stayed in the hospital with them for a while, sharing her faith in Jesus with them. She also volunteered to work as teacher for the children of a poor neglected Indian tribe. Her ministry of faith and comfort provided her the peace that she had lost when she left a home where care was badly missing.

On the human side, besides drawing strength from the wells of our faith to cope with the pains of departure and separation, we can:

  1. Draw comfort from the fact that not all our goodbye departures here on earth are permanent.  Our OFWs leave while the family left behind await their return for vacation in a couple of years. If the goodbye is made permanent by bereavement, it will be for those who remain to find comfort in their faith, as Martha the sister of the dead Lazarus was comforted by Jesus who said: “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live forever and I will raise him up on the last day.”
  2. To keep alive the longing for the homecoming of the one who has left, regular communication between the one leaving and the one left behind, should be maintained. We live in an age of easy instant communication so there is no reason why the exchange of messages cannot be maintained. When this regular keeping in touch is not maintained, gradually the bonds between those who have left and those left at home is weakened, if not altogether severed.
  3. The pain of separation is assuaged by recalling the good things people separated by distance have shared in the past. This will help keep alive the hope that they can be together again sharing similar blessings.

(A personal note from a friend sent to me expressing her goodbye.)

Here is a story shared by Bob Perks who has written above of the sad feelings that overwhelmed him when witnessing people saying goodbye to each other at airports.

                     Recently I overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her departure and standing near the security gate, they hugged and he said, “I love you. I wish you enough.” She in turn said, “Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Daddy.”

                     They kissed and she left. He walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say goodbye to someone knowing it would be forever?”

                     “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever goodbye?” I asked.

                     “I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, the next trip back would be for my funeral,” he said.

                     “When you were saying goodbye I heard you say, “I wish you enough.” May I ask what that means?”

                     He began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more.” When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them,” he continued and then turning toward me he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory.

“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. 

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.

I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. 

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. 

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

He then began to sob and walked away.

When the Apostles left the hill of the Ascension transfixed gazing up to the clouds that had hidden their Lord,  Angels appeared reminding them that this Jesus would be coming back to them. This would have brought back to their benumbed minds the blessings of which they had had more than “enough” in the company of their Master. They returned with joy to Jerusalem where he would come to them. It did not dawn on them that he would not come in the same physical form that vanished from them at the Ascension. He would come to them in the person of the Holy Spirit. But they would deeply experience his presence fulfilling his promise “I am with you till the end of the ages.” They would go out into the world fired with Pentecostal zeal announcing the presence of their Risen Lord. This presence would mean that there is no “good bye forever” between the Lord and all who await his coming.

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