Jesus was leaving the earth, going to the Father, dying. He was to plunge into death and somehow swim to shore. The crucifixion, the ascension. He could not stay on in this world. Mary Magdalene, his mother, and the disciples grieved.
But this Sunday he says, “If you loved me you would rejoice.”
Sounds like what we experience at a funeral. We are truly glad that our beloved no longer has the pains and shortages of this life, but what about us? We do not get our burden lifted, we get more added to it. We live in sorrow for the loved one(s)!
And what if the deceased had said something like this before dying: “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. I am going away and I will come back to you.”
Going away and coming back? What kind of sense does that make?
The answer is hard to express in a few words, but of course the present writer will rush in. It may seem abstract, but let's give it a try.
(1) Start with the pre-Jesus world. God the Father had been with the people for all ages. The First Testament tells about this repeatedly.
But God remained unknowable in very important ways. Moses was not allowed to look directly at God. “I will set you in the hollow of the rock,” God says, “and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back [really it says ‘so that you may look upon my hindermost quarters’]; but my face is not to be seen.” To see God directly would destroy a human being (see Exodus 33:18-23).
(2) To close this gap, God decided to show us everything about himself in a way we could withstand. He spoke out his very self using a Word that left nothing unsaid. Jesus was the Word he spoke, and humanity was the language he used. Now God could be known because we could hear, see and follow Jesus.
(3) Jesus dies, is raised from death and ascends to the Father from whom he came. But just like the Father had, Jesus speaks out his own very self in a statement that leaves nothing of Jesus unsaid. That Word is the Holy Spirit.
This Spirit is the full reality of the divine/human being called Jesus, who is already the very interior Spirit of God. The Spirit makes us closer to Jesus and to the Father than the apostles were (see also Romans 8:11)!
If you and I say yes to this Spirit, we will know Jesus in just the way sheep knew the voice of their shepherd. We will find Jesus in the Mass, in the Great Eucharistic Sacrament, in prayer, in the people around us. We will be side by side with each other, in the closest possible presence to the God of love.
(4) Was this too abstract? Well, it is the story of our very fleshly life with God on this earth. Let us put it into action.
John Foley, S. J.