16th May 2021
St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh
“Parting is such sweet sorrow”
Shakespeare in the play Romeo and Juliet gives us the simple phrase “Parting is such sweet sorrow”. In doing so he captures so delicately a constant experience in all our lives. All goodbyes have a bitter / sweet quality. Life calls us constantly to move on, to move forward even if it is difficult. Refusing to do so leaves us stuck / paralysed in a way that robs us of the opportunity to be graced with new blessing.
Such was the experience of the apostles and disciples as they experienced the Ascension of the Lord. In the days after Easter there were many appearances of the Risen Lord. Together the early community of disciples gradually came to understand that the Lord had not abandoned them rather he was with them in a new way. The moment we mark on this feast of the Ascension is, as it were, a conclusion to the days of his appearances to point them forward to recognise the nature of the new presence with them. To speak of sweet / sorrow as Shakespeare did is a paradox – a contradiction and so is the Ascension because it holds together the Lord’s leaving us in one manner and still being with us and among us.
It is difficult to mark the Ascension on its own without having an eye to Pentecost – because the accounts in the Scriptures speak all at once of he being “lifted up” from their sight with pointing out that he is going ahead of them to Galilee.
You get a good sense of this from the Gospel to-day where Jesus extends the very direct invitation to go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. As that happens two things become clear 1. “You will be my witnesses” 2. Read the signs that will be associated with believers.
“And so the Lord Jesus … was taken up into heaven: … While they, going out, preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the signs that accompanied it”.
That, my friends, is the pattern of the Church since its earliest days.
Have we been faithful to the mission entrusted to us? Many have been yet we know only too well many not only failed but discredited the Good News by their sinfulness.
Last Sunday, I suggested that over time many people have become disconnected from the grace and blessing the Good News brings to life. There is a risk that the disconnection might have been accelerated by the Pandemic lockdown. Should that be the case we should not underestimate the impoverishment of life and purpose for a new generation. And yet there are signs of a new interrogation and questioning by a new generation of the kind of society we are fashioning. The questions may not be couched in religious or faith language nevertheless it is the same underlying reality that is being spoken of.
The most obvious questions are about what we call “quality of life” – what values, what virtues underpin the way we are organising life for our communities, families, relationship indeed personal contentment and dignity of life.
The Lord did go before the disciples into Galilee, He goes before us too, to Cloyne and Conna, to Kanturk and Cobh – the mission of the Ascension go on in our day. Ours is indeed a sweet sorrow – the Lord continues to go before us.