Ascension and Rituals of Farewell
“Parting is such sweet sorrow,” Shakespeare wrote. We have a chance to contemplate what that means as we celebrate Jesus’ leave-taking, also known as The Ascension of the Lord. We certainly can relate at this time of year with so many goodbyes happening. Graduates are saying goodbye to the schools that have educated them as they look forward to new and exciting experiences in high school, college, graduate school, or a career. Parents are saying goodbye to the young people they’ve protected, supported, and guided at home, watching them start their own lives.
Each goodnight prayer and kiss is a promise to your children that your love stays with them through the night, just as God’s love stays with them through life. Goodnight and goodbye rituals are important for the development of spiritual strength and faith. They teach us that there is a connection between the loved and lover that doesn’t end when one is invisible to the other.
The words goodbye, adieu, and adios all mean “God be with you.” They are words of blessing that commit another person to the care of God. Jesus exemplifies this power of blessing when he greets his disciples in Galilee after the Resurrection. He assures them of his presence as he directs them to “go and make disciples of all nations.” His final words are clear and powerful: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew’s Gospel ends with these words.
“I am with you always.” This is what a child knows when parent kisses or signs her with a cross at night or when leaving for school. It’s what is understood by a friend’s hug, a blown kiss, or hands waving. One of our family rituals involves standing on the curb waving until the people leaving have disappeared around the corner, taking our blessings and presence with them.
The final blessing at Mass is the liturgy’s goodbye. The words empower us to go forth and make disciples of nations, to be God’s peace in the world, to serve and love one another. The words acknowledge that between the entrance and dismissal rites, God has been present to us in a wonderful and mysterious way, and we are now being commissioned to do what we gathered to do. Poised at the threshold of the church, we are ready to bring Christ into the world. Everything we have experienced at Mass – our gathering, listening to the Word, and coming to the Table – has prepared us for this moment of departure.
Let’s try to acknowledge the importance of those last moments of Mass by paying attention, listening to the words of the final blessing, and taking them into our hearts. Jesus’ promise to his disciples that he would be with them always is our promise too. Let’s receive that promise with gratitude and pass it on to others, letting each “goodbye” become a promise of our love and presence.
God be with you.
Public domain image – Ascension of Christ