GOING AND COMING
Christians talk quite a bit about the coming of God into the world. We celebrate it with gladness at Christmas-God's choice to become incarnate and present in our world as Jesus of Nazareth, his Son. We pay attention to it throughout the year as we ponder the stories of what Jesus said and did. During Eastertide, we engage the mystery of his post-resurrection appearances: the risen, living Christ appearing surprisingly in their midst. What we don't do quite as well is to consider not his coming, but his going.
It's called "ascension." The church finds it important enough to have its own day on the liturgical calendar, The Ascension of the Lord. We tend to miss the Ascension, though, because it falls on a Thursday, 40 days after Easter.
Luke, the Gospel writer, wrote about it this way:
Then [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. [Luke 24:50-53]
More often than not, parting is accompanied by sadness and loss. Someone you love or a friend whose company you enjoy departs and you're left to carry on without them. Parting and tears often go hand in hand.
Not for the disciples. When Jesus went away, they returned to Jerusalem "with great joy." How did they manage that?
It certainly wasn't like his previous departure. When he was dead and buried and thought to be gone for good, they went fishing. They went back to what they knew, back to where, for them, it all started. Were they sad? No doubt. Confused? Likely. Because at that time they just didn't get it. They had forgotten-or at least didn't trust-that he meant what he had said when he spoke to them as they shared a final meal together:
"Now I am going to him who sent me ... It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send ... the Spirit of truth, [who] will guide you into all the truth." [John 16: 5, 7, 13]
In this case, there had to be a going before there could be a coming, a necessary departure as prelude to a loving return. Maybe the disciples at Bethany in the end just got it. Remembering what he had said about his need to go, they rejoiced when he actually went, brimming with confidence that he would be true to his word. They welcomed the first Ascension with the hope-filled confidence of faithful followers, trusting that the going would be temporary, and the coming, glorious and soon.
And it was.
On the 50th day after Easter, the Spirit came on the first Pentecost. The Spirit came with power, inspiring disciples to become apostles-ones who are sent out to proclaim God's truth. They really hadn't a choice. They had learned first hand that Jesus was true to his word. He went away so that he could come back. He did. And now he would never leave again.
That's why we celebrate Pentecost. It's a Sunday 50 days after Easter that says God is trustworthy. God is faithful. God is powerful. God is present. God is love. The living Christ has come back to Advocate for us all, simply because it is his nature so to do.
May his living presence animate our lives today just as he did that first Pentecost, turning us all into apostles as we fan out and proclaim to all the truth that the powerful love and faithful presence of God never ends.
Grace and Peace