“Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.” ~ William Shakespeare
In the epic hit Television Series M*A*S*H, the much celebrated Series Finale centered on the long-awaited conclusion of the Korean War.
Finally, after stealing the General's Jeep (on numerous occasions), taking their dire need for an incubator all the way up the chain of command to none other than General MacArthur, placing a take-out order for barbecued spare-ribs ~ sans coleslaw unfortunately ~ to the famous Adam's Ribs, which happened to be in Chicago, and generally making life miserable for Majors Frank Burns and Charles Emerson Winchester III, the war-weary doctors and their dogged mobile army surgical unit staffers would return home to their husbands, wives and loved ones, this after having witnessed an ocean of bloodshed, violence, and death, all of which was cleverly framed within the context of comedy, however dark and sardonic it may have been at times.
As each unique character bid farewell to the others, it was interesting to see how differently each went about the task. For some, it was a mere formality as their chopper or other means of transportation to Seoul couldn’t arrive quickly enough. For others, most notably Hawkeye Pierce's sidekick and partner-in-dry martinis B.J. Honeycutt, the task was far more difficult. He could not even utter the word when pressed to do so, and it isn't until the final credits roll that we learn how Honeycutt bids his friend farewell, spelling the word out with rocks on a barren hill gathered from the valley below.
Yes, for many of us, saying goodbye can be a very painful, sorrowful experience.
As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord this Sunday, the Apostles are faced with this very task, as Jesus has fulfilled His mission here on Earth and will now, in accordance with His promise and destiny, ascend to Heaven to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. This would represent a dramatic change in the lives of the Apostles. No longer would they be able to see their friend, talk with Him, share a laugh or a meal or a little bit of red wine.
In essence, the Apostles were now compelled to carry on while trying to find God in all things as it were. With Pentecost and the subsequent pouring forth of the Holy Spirt but a few days away, the final pillar of the Holy Trinity would soon be revealed as foreshadowed by Jesus in the Acts of the Apostles ("....but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth").
Of course the Post-Ascension plight of the disciples is our inherited plight from day one, as those of us who believe in God, Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives do so strictly as a matter of faith. Saint Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians implores the Lord to bless the Ephesians abundantly with the gifts needed to grow in faith as he addresses the crowd in our 2nd Reading:
"May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of Him."
It's often been said that wisdom is the greatest gift of all. I suspect that if a mere 1% of those who pray to God that they win the Lottery were to instead pray for wisdom, our world would be a dramatically different place. In some respects however, it takes wisdom to ask for it. A true Catch-22 if ever there was one. Paul continues:
"May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to His call, what are the riches of glory in His inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of His great might: which he worked in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens."
Jesus' Ascension was a pre-destined step in the journey that encourages us to grow in faith and wisdom with the help of the Holy Spirit, once again seeking God in all things. Jesus Himself even said "It is better for you that I go, for if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you." - (John 16:7). It is only in letting go that we are able to grasp that which is next in the spiritual chain of events. But I suppose that lesson rings true in matters far beyond the spiritual. For parents of young children, watching them climb the steps of that yellow school bus for the very first time can of course be a day of joy mixed with sadness. Sadness for what was - fleeting moments of joy that cannot be re-lived, but joy for what is to come. We know that by lookIng forward And placing our faith and hope in God, there will be many other great moments in our future.
It's interesting to note that during the tail-end of today's reading from Acts, two men clad in white robes immediately appear to the 11 Apostles as they gaze skyward while Jesus ascends into heaven and ask them "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven".
I would venture to guess that we too are often caught glancing up to the sky looking for Jesus, not realizing that he's actually right here among us. Now more than ever we see a proliferation of prognosticators who claim that the end is near. While walking through Port Authority Bus Terminal just this morning, a soft spoken woman with a kind face clad in African Garb approached me and urged me to "repent, for Jesus is coming, and He's coming soon". In her zeal to spread the word, this woman dId not realize that Jesus is in fact already here.
Two weeks ago Jesus asked us to love our neighbors as He loves us - to love them as much as we love ourselves. Perhaps He planted these seeds prior to the Ascension in order to encourage us to change the way in which we think and act so that when we see Him in others, we will respond in a way that truly glorifies Him.
So although the Ascension does have undertones of a farewell, by no means are we being spiritually deserted; quite the contrary. Pentecost insures that the Holy Spirit will be with us always, the "advocate" that Jesus speaks of in John 16:7.
Jesus ascended into heaven because His work here on Earth was completed. But our work here on Earth is far from complete. To "see" Jesus today requires a different perspective. 20/20 vision does not come into play, and we are not afforded the opportunity to place our hands over the wounds of crucifixion in the palm of Jesus' hands. We instead must patiently look to grow in wisdom.
Rather than looking upward for this wisdom, perhaps it can be found by looking outward.
“Come Holy Spirt, enlighten the hearts of your faithful, and they will renew the face of the Earth.“