A reflection on John 14:23-29
Have you ever noticed in life how difficult it is to say goodbye? Most of us do not do that well. It is an awkward and uncomfortable moment. Most of us find that words fail, as we try to convey something meaningful about the relationships and the experiences we’ve had, all the while trying to keep control over our emotions. Schools try to deal with this by emphasizing the idea of commencements as being a new beginning and focusing the attention of the graduating seniors on what’s coming next, and where they are going as they look forward to a bright, sunny future.
Much of that is exactly what is going on in the gospel today. Just like the early disciples, we tend to focus, of course on the great joy of the disciples as they encountered the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. But the reality was for them that He was going to be with them only but a little longer. There is the suggestion of this on Easter Sunday itself, when our Lord spoke a cautionary word to Mary Magdalene when she encountered Him at the tomb. “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
It is curious that none of the disciples have any visible part in the Gospel today. None of them speak, and it is not clear if others than Judas, not Iscariot are there, although presumably they were. But it remains clear from our Lord’s words that they are distressed. Having just gotten used to the idea that He was accessible to them as the Resurrected Lord and Savior, they are coming to terms with the fact that He will be with them only a little longer in corporal and bodily form. With great tenderness, He spoke to them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, do not let them be afraid. Peace, I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice because I am going to the Father.”
What they did not understand, and what we still tend not to understand is that the Lord’s Ascension is related to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord Jesus promises that he will not leave us comfortless. But he also made it clear that we will not receive the gift of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during that time he remains present.
When it is understood absent from the usual polemic, agenda laden exhortation that is not the proclamation of the Gospel, the record of scripture is that there were three, perhaps four distinct ages in the history of salvation. Each age represented the loving action of a loving God who cares tenderly for His creation and longs for it to return fully to Him.
The first era was that of creation. From that we are reminded that God made all things to reflect the glory of his image, rather much like a painting represents the beauty of the master who painted it. A Rembrandt is not a Michelangelo. God created all things to reflect the radiance of his splendor, especially humans whom he created in his own image, imago Dei.
The second installment in the history of salvation is the gift of the law. While we are used to what Saint Paul wrote about what the law did to us, that does not change that the law was given again by a loving God who calls people to know him.
The third installment of salvation history is the incarnation, the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of the loving God in human form.
And the final installment of the history of salvation is the outpouring of the power, grace, and presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s faithful people, to complete His work in the world.
This should be fairly plain to people, but it essentially is not. The Ascension of our Lord was necessarily a part of the plan of salvation that paves the way for the coming of the Helper, the Advocate, the Comforter and the Paraclete,