Transitions are often hard to live through, aren’t they?
Today we celebrate probably one of the toughest transitions that human beings had to suffer: The Ascension of our Lord. I remember as a kid thinking about this day, and feeling with the disciples, that they had really lost a great friend and source of strength. I also imagined myself in their place and staring up into the sky, looking into the clouds. One of my personal traumas as a child was watching my father storm out of the house when he was angry. So I acutely identified with the disciples on this day.
Now today our family is going through a particularly poignant transition. We have been told by my mother-in-law’s nursing home staff, and by our own observations, that she is in the last stage of her life. She is 93 and has been bedridden for the past nine months. She has also prayed every day for God to take her home. Particularly heart-wrenching prayers to accompany her physical sufferings.
But what did Jesus tell us, over and over, about times like this? He said that this is not all there is, didn’t he? Even as he was ascending, he promised that the disciples would receive some gift in the future. The gift of the power of the Holy Spirit.
And yet, even at these last moments, his disciples continued to show that somehow, they were not really getting the message. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority…”
But as we watch Irene in her nursing home bed, I sense around the room a true feeling for her that this is not all there is. Yes, there is sadness and anxiety, but as her oldest daughter said, “I think Mom is continuing on the path to her new life.”
You see, time and again in these days after Easter we hear Jesus telling us, “I am with you always, until the end of the world.” It is in today’s Alleluia. It is in the 2nd Reading: “…the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” It is in the 1st Reading: “This Jesus…will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” The Promise. The Prize. The knowledge that while we may suffer today, mourn today, and weep today, that is not all there is.
Yes, Jesus had to tell his disciples many times, sometimes in exasperation, that his kingdom is not of this earth, but also that his kingdom is indeed all around us. Again, this sounds like a Zen koan, “the identity of opposites” as the Buddhist monk and teacher says.
But that is what I was seeing in Irene’s room…her children and grandchildren recognizing that while their parent and grandparent was lying peacefully in bed, there was the realization that this mortal coil was unwinding to a grander and incomprehensible shape.
And that’s what Jesus was telling his apostles. Don’t worry, I may be physically gone, but all that I have taught you will finally be made clear through the power of the holy spirit.
Now I suppose that these people who had close daily contact with the person of Jesus, whom most of them could barely understand, would need an overt presentation of this comforting concept by the physical descent of the Holy Spirit. But we, who have been immersed in this salvation story all our lives, may just need the echoes of the Gospel, the readings, the Psalms, and the teachings of our ministers.
That’s what was in Irene’s room, at least for many of us. We could see her slowly slipping away from us, yes. But the thought was expressed – and silent – that she was going to the promised land and would soon be rid of her constant physical torments.
One final thought for today. This isn’t just a holy story out of our Bible and preachers’ mouths. This is much more. This is a call from Jesus show to the next generation, and those around us, that there is more to come than anything we could expect. “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
There it is.
Yes, the kingdom is at hand. There is more than our physical senses. There is something beyond what we know and see every day. So let’s rejoice! Let’s sing and dance! Let’s laugh and cry with joyful expectation.
But mark my words, let’s all go out and tell the whole world this story. It doesn’t belong just to us who have gotten the message. It belongs to everyone.
Go forth and proclaim the Good News!
Father, help us to proclaim your word. Help us to share our joy. And help us to see your kingdom all around us as we profess it. And may Irene rest in peace.