Have you ever experienced spending the last few days or the last few hours farewelling someone who meant a lot in your life?
What did that experience look like?
We are now approaching the end of the Easter season. Next Sunday, we will celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. And soon, the feast of Pentecost.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is preparing for his imminent departure. He is about to go back or ascend to his Father. He knew that his physical time with his people was coming to an end. The last few moments together are not easy for anyone, either for Jesus or his disciples. In this case the Gospel record some of the last words of Jesus to his disciples. John tells us that he said to them: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Paraclete, to be with you forever.” And “He abides with you, and He will be in you” and “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you’’ (Jn 14:16-18).
The Gospel presents to us the difficulty of saying farewell, and how many things Jesus wanted to share with his disciples and reassure them in this difficult moment of farewell. Like many human experience of farewell, Jesus’ departure was not easy to take. He knows his disciples will be sad and confused. But he gives them some kind of assurances. He says that there is nothing to worry about because he will always be present among them, that presence comes in another form through the sending of the Advocate.
I believe that we can relate well to the experience of Jesus and his disciples. Many of us have experienced in many ways saying farewell to our beloved ones, it may be our sons or daughters who move to other countries for further studies, it may be a moving away from home after a long period of living together or even, saying farewell to someone who we will never see physically again. Those experiences can be very hard to accept and to explain.
Karl Rahner, a Jesuit theologian, puts it in this way:
“When we have genuinely loved someone
we donate apart of ourselves to that other
in a way that is beyond recall.
And when they go from us
they take that part from us with them.
Where have they gone?
They have gone to be with God,
the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
not the God of the dead but of the living.
So the calm we eventually experience,
when our necessary period of mourning is done,
is not a sign that things are again as they were before,
that cannot be.
It is rather a sign that part of us lives now
already in eternity, with our loved living dead.
Since Victoria declared a state of emergency, about seven weeks ago, people have been staying at home and have not been able to, or have been limited in, seeing their family and friends. Those seven weeks have provided us time to realise the importance of our physical presence with each other and the significance of spending time with one another. In a certain way it has made us realise that we do not necessarily know how much more time we may have with one another in this world, and even not sure when the last farewell to our loved ones might arrive. The restrictions have been eased a little bit more now, and soon we will be able to see and spend time with our family and friends.
Let’s use this time that is left in isolation to reflect upon how we can change or appreciate other people in our lives when eventually we will step out of these restrictions.
The Gospel experience of the farewell discourse, the Karl Rahner piece, and even our own experience of saying farewell help us to realise the importance of one another in our lives and put into action the command of Jesus ‘keep my commandments, love me and love one another’.