‘I am going away and I will come back to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father… And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.” (Rev 21:3, 5)
We are never inclined to rejoice when someone that we love departs from us. If we dearly love that person, then departure, even for a little while, feels a great loss; thus we are much less likely to rejoice when that person goes away and cannot be seen or reached again, as say in death. We grieve and mourn for the person’s absence, their powerlessness to return, and our powerlessness to call them back. This may even lead some Christians to falter, put aside their faith for a time, and seek solace in secret and false knowledge, psychic mediums and other forms of esoteric spiritualism practiced by the wayward, the pagan, and the charlatan.
Jesus predicted that He would go away and leave the disciples who loved Him dearly. Rather than accepting the bemoaning of His parting, He cautioned them that if they loved Him they would rejoice at His leaving the world. Jesus required that they prove their love for Him by being joyous that He, the Son of God, would be reunited in heaven with His Father. He also wanted them to rejoice because it would be proof that they believed that He would return to them in the Holy Spirit and eventually in glory to restore creation to its intended fulfilment (Rom 8:21). Jesus tells His disciples that he will return through a Paraclete, a helper, an Advocate, Thus, Jesus leaves his dear ones behind not as a lessening of His love but as an increase of it through the promise of a greater mystical union (Jn 14:20-21).
This is a special liturgical week because our celebration of Easter and Ascension converge on this 6th Sunday in Easter. We are not quite at the Ascension, but the Gospel reading gives us a foretaste through a divine assurance. Hence, we place on our bulletin cover a work by American and British painter, Benjamin West, which anticipates Ascension Thursday, entitled The Ascension (1801). West was born in Pennsylvania, was friend of Benjamin Franklin, and eventually visitor to England, which became his permanent residence. He was famous for contemporary war scenes and images of classical Roman history and mythology. He once made a tour of Italy and later in life took to religious painting.
This glorious scene of the Ascension seems influenced by his Italian study. It reminds us of the color, contrast, and vertical style of the Venetian master Tintoretto. However, the brightness of the scene and its liturgical unity is indicative of Neoclassicism and not the Mannerism of Tintoretto with its painted figures moving hither and thither. We see here both earth and heaven united in one offering of praise shown by raised arms and upward observance.
In fact, the larger angels (middle right) raise and lower their arms bridging earth and heaven as they say to the Apostles – once Jesus had left their sight -“Why are you standing there looking at the sky”?
Our savior will come again (Acts 1:11), first in spirit (Acts 2:3), then in flesh and glory (Rev 1:7).
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services