Unless I leave............. thoughts on the Ascension
Death - while in the greater scheme of things only a temporary goodbye from those we love - can be heart wrenching. I have been on call as a chaplain and a lay eucharistic visitor when the mortally ill person has one foot in this realm and the other in the next. They have made their peace with moving on, but those around them keep denying the reality of that big step. As an observer I have been acutely aware of the mourning going on in the room.... the mourning is being done by those who will remain survivors, not for the child of God in the hospital bed who has reached the place of letting go of the familiar.
I have witnessed survivors wailing at the top of their lungs "what am I going to do without you?" Strange but true that when a beloved spouse is on the brink of departure, the surviving spouse turns it into ME, ME, ME.
When a beloved, beloved pastor is about to retire or is called to another cure, the congregation expresses similar feelings: what are WE going to do without you?"
In the case of the pastor, perhaps the new priest has already been selected and is waiting in the wings. Perhaps the change was a long time coming - the priest had been the shepherd for an extremely long time and, while devotion/loyalty to the cleric was strong, something was lacking in the dynamic of the parish. The priest knew the duties inside and out but needed a change in local for spiritual growth or a different calling.
How HARD it is for either the dying spouse or the beloved cleric to say to those who are left behind - It's going to be OK.... you'll do just fine. If we're talking about a long, protracted illness, the remaining spouse has not had the luxury of time away or the absense of worry or anxiety or financial strain... and they have more living to do, perhaps with someone else. In the case of a pastor, it may be time for the congregation to adopt a mode of open mindedness and self-reliance that was never necessary while Father Old Faithful was at the helm.
If these scenarios sound difficult, what must it have felt for the apostles and disciples of Christ? They had followed Him die and seen Him risen. How could they bear losing Him again? Yet he took them aside and said, in effect: My time is up. I am ready and willing to go. In fact, if I don't go, the Spirit of God will not be able to come to you. I may have been good, but what you NEED now is something I cannot replace or fulfill. I am going to leave in order for the power of the Spirit to fill you and embrace you. I leave you in good hands. Just like the surviving spouse or the extant congregation, Jesus must have heard but I want YOU. What will we do without You?
Some transitions are less bumpy than others- this shift must have felt like hitting a deep pothole @ 70mph. It was an unpleasant jolt with the possibility of major damage.
The reassuring words are what we need to embrace when leaving one place - or state of being - to another. It's all a part of life..... and I will be with you always. Whether it is a spouse, child, pastor, friend, or even a separation through our own devising from Jesus - it is only temporary. In the meantime, something wonderful just may happen. A door closes, a window opens. A beloved spouse can be remembered in real terms while we may find love again... different, but love nonetheless. The old pastor was comfortable, the new one is a real spark plug..... both good, just different.
Jesus leaves us in the care of the Holy Spirit. They are both wonderful, just different. Amen and amen.