All of us have had to face moments of departure and loss. Was it when we were desperately in love and then the one we loved left us? Was it when we graduated from school and then suffered separation from our dear friends? Was it when a spouse or a child went off to war somewhere? Was it when we had to take a job in a city far away? For those leaving it is a wrenching experience. For those left behind it is equally wrenching, perhaps even more so. The moments and days approaching departure are filled with terrible anxiety. Our hearts are filled with fear and sorrow.
Such a time, experienced by Jesus’ closest friends, is presented to us in today’s gospel account. The scene is set during the Last Supper. Jesus’ words are a part of His last discourse, the thoughts and words He was sharing with them immediately before His passion and impending agony and death. The tragedy was just about to occur and He was giving them His last words of love.
What was going through Jesus’ mind? I imagine He was feeling much like parents feel when their child or children will be left on their own. They will have to fend for themselves. They will have to find protection and security using whatever devices they had learned while they were at home. So, too, while they were with Him, Jesus had protected them. Who would protect them now? Who would guard them, care for them, and provide for them?
The Church gives us this setting as she prepares us for another departure, namely the Ascension of Jesus – His going back to His Father in heaven, the event we will remember in the next weekend’s liturgies. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” He tells them. He promises them God’s presence will be given them in a new way. The Holy Spirit will be with them to comfort them, empower them, and inspire them. They will, however, have to see God and experience God in a new way, in a spiritual way, in an inner way. God’s presence will no longer be tangible and visible to them, immediately available to them as a close friend embodied in a human body. The Jesus they had known was about to become Someone new and different for them.
There is no experience in life that is more frightening, sadder and more tragic than the experience of not belonging to anyone. To not belong to anyone is a terrible and terrifying thing for any one of us. We are, after all, made to belong. We are made in the image and likeness of God, the God whose very nature is three Divine Persons totally belonging to each other. To not belong, therefore, strikes at the very ground of our existence… our very reason for being. To be left alone is a fearsome thing. It directly contradicts the way God made us to live.
We are, however, not left alone. God has not left us, nor will He ever leave us. We have His powerful, loving, caring and life-giving presence for us in His Holy Spirit, the One who dwells in His Church. Today’s first reading taken from the Book of Acts gives us a glimpse into where we will find God after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. We find God in belonging, belonging in His Mystical Body the Church.
The urge to belong, the drive for community, grounds all of creation. I say “grounds” because everything is built upon God. We, precisely as persons, mirror God’s very own existence, namely the being of God that is found in the total and infinite union of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are, divine revelation tells us, made in the image and likeness of God. We are created to live in God’s very own way of living. Our existence and our lives are made for living in community, in communion and love with others.
The Church exists for that purpose. The Church exists not only to bring us into union with God through, with and in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, but the Church likewise exists to bring us into communion with each other. Holy Communion not only unites us with the risen Christ, it also unites us with each other in Christ’s very own life, the life He gave to share with us, the life in which we are, in Christ, taken back to our Father in heaven.
The Book of Acts, from which today’s first reading was taken, is a book that’s all about that. It is in that communion, in that community or family of faith that we call the Church. It is in our Holy Communion that God comes to us in Christ and we return to the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His risen Christ.
Jesus is with us in a new way after his ascension; now he is with us in the Church and he equips his Church to continue his work by giving different gifts to different members of the Church. What is the gift Jesus gave to you to use for the Church? He surely has given you a gift to be used for the benefit of all of us here. Ideally as soon as everyone receives the Sacrament of Confirmation they should take on some role helping in the Church, using their gift for the service of the Church. We should strive to let the whole world see that the Church, that our parish, is the place where Jesus continues to be present after his ascension. As we heard in the second reading,
“I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace….”
When we truly live the message of Jesus we help the faith of others. When we do not truly live the message of Jesus, we scandalize others and the whole Church suffers. When someone rejects the message of Jesus they lose out on a beautiful relationship with Jesus,
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)
Those who no longer come to Mass on Sunday do not have the Eucharist at home, do they? They do not belong to the community any more, they are individuals! When someone stops celebrating the Eucharist with the community on Sunday surely they can only expect their relationship with the Lord Jesus to go downhill after that. That is why we really have to work that the Church becomes what the Lord calls it to be, that all will find their home in the Church and thus find Jesus.
Jesus continues to be present after his ascension but in a new way. Now he is present in the Church. He is present in the Eucharist we celebrate together, he is present in his body and blood to unite us with himself and each other. To help the Church continue his mission he pours out his gifts on individuals in the Church to create community of worship and support. Let us pray that the Church will more and more become what Jesus calls it to be and that all may come to find Jesus.