More than 40 years ago I met Jim and Pauline. Jim was a sergeant with the OPP and Pauline worked in a Catholic school in Barrie. At the time I was working in a parish in the north of Toronto. For about a year the three of us worked together on a number of marriage enrichment projects. Over that time of working together, we became very good friends. Then I left to return to Fredericton.
One of the remarkable things is that the departure did not end the relationship. For more than 40 years we have maintained the friendship through letters and phone calls and more recently through email. There were occasional visits to Toronto for me and to Fredericton for them. It was not always easy to maintain the contact but it did happen. Though we left each other’s physical presence we had not really left one another. Over the years there was a presence that continued. We continued to be with one another in our friendship, but in another way. There was a sense of being apart and together, of “leaving yet remaining” with one another. I think we all have had such relationships.
When the Scriptures speak of the Ascension, it may seem that Jesus is somehow leaving his disciples. But when we look more closely at the Gospel accounts it is evident they speak of leaving and at the time staying. There is a sense of Jesus leaving and yet remaining with his disciples.
Luke’s Gospel (24:44-53) presents Jesus leaving his disciples in what we usually refer to as the Ascension. The way Luke tells the story is by having Jesus recall the many promises and prophesies of God’s saving love in the Old Testament. He connects these with the message and mission he has had with them as the Christ, the promised and anointed one. Then, pointing out that they are to be his witnesses, he calls on them to take the message to the whole of humanity. They are to be the Christ for others, to all nations.
Luke presents us with the disciples’ recognition that while the physical presence of Jesus with whom they had walked and talked in Galilee was now gone, He remains among them in another and more wondrous way. Jesus the Christ risen continues among them and they are themselves the witnesses of this new and real presence. With this awareness, the disciples who had been so full of fear and foreboding, are filled with the Spirit, and joyfully return to Jerusalem to share the Good News.
In every Eucharist we hear the words Do this in memory of me. As a community of faith we recall in living fashion Jesus’ whole life, death and resurrection, what we call the Paschal Mystery. Each time we gather around the Table sharing Eucharist, we celebrate together that Jesus who has returned to the Father, continues through the Spirit to be with us. Each time we celebrate together, we remember and enact this “leaving yet remaining” story as disciples of this Risen Jesus. In doing so, like those disciples we see in the Gospel, we commit ourselves to the joyous sharing of the Good News to all nations. The real presence of Jesus is indeed among and is for all nations, all the peoples of the earth.