Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow: Why the Ascension Matters

Departures are typically sad events, but not always.

When I was a kid, I had a great aunt who we would love to see visit, but were more excited when she left.

You might be imagining someone initially pleasant transforming into a demanding irritant within a few days—the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde houseguest. You’d be wrong! She was intelligent, patient, loving and full of amazing stories.

The reason for excitement at her leaving was it meant she was eventually heading out on some mysterious journey to a faraway land. And with adventures, unique and precious gifts would be coming our way.

A pair of pajamas from China might appear on the doorstep. A box from South America stuffed with llama skins could arrive. Strange coinage and colorful paper money might even fall out of an envelope addressed to us.

My childhood imagination soared with each of her trips, and I was constantly wishing for her to take another journey into the unknown. I felt like I had touched a magical place when her brown boxes landed at my door.

Soon the Church will celebrate the Ascension of Christ, and considering the emotional roller coaster of denial, crucifixion, and resurrection, this departure should have been tragically sad for the disciples.

During the 40 days after the resurrection, Jesus would often appear and disappear, instilling comfort and hope with each encounter. But now He was leaving for good, but surprisingly it was a departure of joy.

It is the joy of a promised return and joy of a new adventure with the promise of gifts from a faraway kingdom. Christ was not merely returning to the Father; He was on a mission.

For on this journey back to the kingdom, He took something new with Him into the presence of His Father. On this trip, He was clothed in Humanity, and this apex of creation stamped with God’s very image comes into a communion barely dreamt of by prophets of old.

We hymn this journey of Christ to the throne of the Father at the Ascension Liturgy:

“You were taken up in glory, Christ our God, making Your disciples joyful by the promise of the Holy Spirit; through the blessing they were assured that You are the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world.”

This garment of flesh Jesus shares with us rests at the throne of heaven, bathed in the fire of the Godhead. Only through this action can humanity receive the promised gift of Christ’s departure—the Holy Spirit.

“Lifting up on Your shoulders the nature which had been led astray, O Christ, You were taken up and brought it to God the Father.” (Matins of the Ascension)

For now, Man, whose flesh is eternally present before God, can contain the presence of God within and not be consumed.

Shakespeare wrote, “Parting is a sweet sorrow,” but His parting brought our glorification.

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