Dear Friends in Christ,
‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’. These are the words of Romeo to his beloved Juliet in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, Scene 2). These words seem to summarise the emotions that can be experienced at the departure of a friend or the end of an era. In fact, farewells and departures can be trying times for us, especially when we are saying our goodbyes to someone who has been close to us, who has assisted us in so many ways and has had a great influence on our lives, or when we are leaving a place which holds deep and intimate memories for us.
I remember the emotional period I went through when we had to sell our family house in 2010, a place which had been home to my family since 1959. Stepping through the front door and locking it, knowing that it was for the last time was a heart wrenching experience. It took me a full six months to be able to drive past the house. One thing we try to do to cope with the absence of such a person or thing is to in some way keep their memory alive. We try and achieve this by surrounding ourselves with memorabilia which highlights our time with our departing friend – photographs, memories, sharings and the like. Even now some seven years since we sold the family home, I still have fond memories of it, with the house being a prominent part of many of my dreams. All this helps us to cope with and adjust to the absence of our friend.
In today’s liturgy, we find ourselves experiencing a departure – the physical departure of Jesus from the lives of his disciples. They are now to go back into the world and continue his mission and be his presence to others. We hear Jesus saying to the women on that first Easter morning: ‘Go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; there they will find me’ [Matthew 28:10]
In today’s Gospel passage (Matthew 28:16-20) we find the disciples being faithful to that command. They remain silent. It is Jesus who has the final words to his disciples. He speaks to them in what is known in Matthew’s Gospel as the Great Commission, rather than the Ascension. Jesus speaks these words to his disciples to achieve three things:
Jesus assures them of his power [‘All things in heaven and earth have been given to me’ v. 18].
Jesus commissions them [‘Go therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commandments I gave to you’ v 19-20a]
Jesus promises them his abiding presence [‘And know that I am with you always; yes to the end of time’ v 20 b]
The celebration of the Ascension of the Lord is more about the commission that Jesus gives to each of us through our Baptism, than about his physical departure. It becomes a time to recognise and celebrate what his presence and mission have done for and to us: enabling us to continue to preach his word in his name and for his presence to be seen through us.
The Celebrant challenges us at the conclusion of each Mass with the words: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. We go in the peace and assurance that Jesus will be with us until the end of time. This Sunday, as I hear these words, I can ask myself how will I continue to be in the presence of Jesus to those I will meet in the coming week and beyond?
Fr Robert Bossini
Dean and Parish Priest