Sermons from St
Fr Dennis Smith, Ascension Day, May
Separation is a reality constituting one of the major threats to human well-being. At the same time it provides the indispensable condition for personal growth and maturity. If a mother leaves her babay, anxiety ensues, loss pervades, insecurity floods in, forsakenness fills all horizons and survival feels put at risk.
Yet, unless a mother leaves her baby, identity is strangled at birth, growth is scuppered, personal integration is stifled, relationship is prohibited from emergence. The resolution of this impasse is ‘return’. Going gives place again to coming; sorrow to joy. An impossible, unthinkable, double-sided promise is proved true. ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.
This is the rhythm of all subsequent life. Separation threatens, and may scar. Separation spurs, and may bear personal fruit. Return reassures, and may heal. Return authenticates faithfulness and turns sorrow into joy. In some strange fashion, the intensity of the joy reflects the density of the sorrow.
Death menaces precisely because it heralds ultimate separation. The identity of the self seems set at risk in face of the return of the body to the earth whence it came. Others, who have shared in the intimacy of the profound rhythm of goings and comings that define relationship, face the agony of a going that carries no certificate of return. So it is that the faithful rhythm of life stands locked in conflict with the contradictory finality of terminus that death provides. Who or what will arbitrate and designate the victor?
Into this scenario, the Gospel of John drops a dress-rehearsal. A separation is foreshadowed. A death is signalled. A compass-bearing clue is tabled: ‘because I go to the Father.’ (John 16: 12-24). Perhaps this is more than the road map of a journey of Jesus. Perhaps it signals a re-routing of all our human relationships. To go to the Father is to be where Jesus belongs. Yet because he is the Way, Truth and Life, the ground on which we make our human pilgrimages, the reality which undergirds us, the secret heart of all our living, it is also where we now belong. He ‘goes’ in order that the Spirit may ‘come.’ The Christ of the Galilean road returns as the Lord of every road. Into the mutual belonging of Father, Son and Spirit, disciples are drawn. Because Jesus goes away, and because it is to the Father that he goes, and because it is through the Spirit that he returns, disciples – and we – are drawn into a network of reunion that death cannot sever.
Once, a nation lost its Moses, found him replaced by a Joshua, and inherited a Promised Land. Now, neither death nor life, nor you name it, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The experience of separation remains. It is part both of our human brokenness and of the necessary rhythm of our road to maturity. But the labour pains of anguish are the herald of the joy of new life.