Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow: Why the Ascension Matters

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.

About author

Theron Mathis

I am a sales and marketing guy with two degrees in religion. During my last year at a Baptist seminary, I stumbled into Orthodoxy, and it opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed. Within a year of graduation, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox church.

As a former Baptist, the Bible was the centerpiece of my faith, being instilled with the very words of Scripture from childhood. Yet Orthodoxy opened the Bible in ways I could never imagined (especially the OT). As Orthodox, we have often surrendered the Bible to the Evangelical Protestant world, yet every Church Father, prayer, and divine service breathes Scripture with every breath. It is this interaction of Church and Scripture that captures my heart. Time within the Church enriches the hearing of the Word, and time spent in the Scripture enlivens the words of the liturgy. They are inseparable, and to understand Scripture outside Liturgy is to rip the Bible away from its source of meaning. This connection animates my writing and reflections.

My biggest passions are my faith and my family. I attend church at St. Michael Orthodox Church in Louisville, KY, where I teach the adult Sunday school class. This has given me the opportunity to stay engaged in Biblical Studies and Patristics, and out of those classes I recently wrote The Rest of the Bible, introducing those “mysterious” OT books often referred to as the Apocrypha. You can find more info on my blog - The Sword in the Fire.