It is a season of leave-takings. In the United Methodist Church, this is the time of year when colleagues who will be moving to new pastoral appointments this summer are announcing the news. Several friends have died in recent weeks (including dear Joe, whom I wrote about in this post a few months ago) as have several family members of friends. Graduation ceremonies are taking place (Brenda Lewis, my longtime friend and seminary roommate, reminded me this week that it’s been twenty years since our own graduation from Candler School of Theology), boxes are being packed, and familiar landscapes are receding into the distance.
In the rhythm of the liturgical year, this too is a season of leave-taking. For some time now we’ve been watching Jesus prepare his friends for his coming absence. As Jesus practices the art of departure, he invites us to think about what it means to say good-bye with intention, with mindfulness, with love. This week, the exquisite care that Jesus brings to his leaving reaches its apex in the passages for Ascension Day and Easter 7.
As always, I am struck by how, in Luke’s account of the Ascension, Jesus chooses to leave from Bethany. It is a beloved place of memory for Jesus: here he found hospitality in the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; here he raised Lazarus from the dead; here he received the gift of a woman’s anointing shortly before his death. Bethany has been a place of blessing for Jesus. And so, from this place of blessing, Jesus leaves, offering a blessing as he goes. While he was blessing them, Luke tells us, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven (24.51).
As we see also in this week’s passage from John, the blessing is part of the leaving. And, somehow, the leaving is part of the blessing. His departure—and the way he enters into it—is part of Jesus’ final gift to his friends. In much the same way that Jesus tells Mary Magdalene on Easter morning not to hold onto him, Jesus at the table and in his Ascension urges his disciples—his friends—to grow up. He invites them to enter into a new relationship with him that will no longer depend on his physical presence but will rely instead on trusting in his love and growing into the people and the community that Christ has called them to become. It is time for them to become his body, to continue his transforming work in the world that he has physically left but has not abandoned.
Joyful, sorrowful, bittersweet; planned or unexpected; welcomed or resisted or grieved: no matter how a leave-taking happens, it always brings an invitation, and it makes a space for the Spirit to come. As you navigate the leave-takings in your own life, how do you keep your eyes open for the invitations they hold? What blessings do they offer, and what blessings do they invite?
In the leaving
in the letting go
let there be this
to hold onto
at the last:
the enduring of love
the persisting of hope
the remembering of joy
the offering of gratitude
the receiving of grace
the blessing of peace.
P.S. For previous reflections on the Ascension, click the images or titles below.
Ascension/Easter 7: Blessing in the Leaving
(includes “Ascension Blessing”)
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