Year B – Ascension of the Lord

Year B - Ascension of the Lord

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

(Acts 1:1-11; Eph.4:1-13; Mk.16:15-20)

Some people hate saying goodbye. For them, changing jobs, moving house or farewelling a loved one simply means sorrow.

What many don’t realise, however, is that saying ‘goodbye’ actually invokes God. That’s because ‘goodbye’ is a 16th Century contraction of the expression ‘God be with you’. Similarly, ‘adieu’ means ‘go with God.’ [i]

Many also forget that every goodbye marks a new beginning. As the author Mitch Albom says, ‘… all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.’ [ii]

In today’s first reading, Jesus farewells his disciples; it’s time to return to His Father in heaven. His Ascension doesn’t just mark an ending, however. It’s also a beginning, for Jesus and for His disciples. 

For Jesus, it’s the end of His earthly ministry. But it’s also a new beginning, because by leaving this world Jesus is no longer confined to one place and time. From heaven, He can make Himself available to everyone, everywhere, all the time. How? By working through the Church, through the sacraments and by penetrating deeply into our hearts, minds and souls.

For the disciples, Jesus’ Ascension marks the end of their traineeship, but it’s also the beginning of a new life as they take responsibility for Jesus’ mission.

They don’t know how to start, however. Then two angels appear, saying: ‘why are you standing there, looking at the sky?’ In other words, what are you waiting for? Get going, there’s work to do.

So, they leave the mountain and head for the city.

Now, Jesus’ Ascension marks a new beginning for us, too, because we are His disciples today. Jesus is calling on us to rise above our ordinary lives, to lift up our hearts, minds and hands so that we might continue His unfinished work, just as the original disciples did.

Bishop Robert Barron says that if Caesar, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Churchill were still striding the world stage, no-one else would have the courage to enter the game. That’s why Jesus leaves, he says, so that we might act in His name and in accord with His spirit.

Barron also says that those who do the most good are those who focus on the things of heaven, like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, St John Paul II. And those who are most effective are those who pray most intently.

But leaving one life for another can be a wrenching experience. I remember leaving home at 17, and weeping that very first night. I had no idea what lay ahead, or how I would make a living, but I knew I had to leave home.

Jesus understands all this. That’s why He says to his disciples: ‘It’s better for you that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy’ (Jn.16:20).

In Matthew’s Gospel, just before Jesus ascends to heaven, we’re told that some of His disciples ‘doubted’ (Mt.28:17). Why did they doubt? Were they fearful? Did they doubt their own abilities?

They needn’t have, because in our second reading St Paul says that Jesus gives each person just what they need to do His work. And in 1 Corinthians he lists some of these special graces: the gift of tongues, strong faith, healing, miracles, wisdom, knowledge and discernment (1Cor.12:8-10, 28-30).

The point is that we are never alone in doing God’s work. When we go forward in faith, He’s always there to guide and strengthen us.

So, how do we say goodbye to one life and enter into a new one?

Perhaps we can learn from Arthur Ashe (1943-96), the legendary American tennis champion. He had a heart attack at the age of 36, and in 1983, during heart surgery, he was given HIV-infected blood.

Sadly, it destroyed his tennis career, but it also opened the door to an unexpected new life as an advocate for HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Arthur Ashe once said: ‘Happiness keeps you sweet; trials keep you strong; sorrows keep you human; failure keeps you humble and success keeps you glowing, but only faith keeps you going.’

And how might we begin our new life?

He said: ‘Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.’ [iii]

God will do the rest. So, trust Him.

[i] Merrill Perlman, Of God and Goodbyes, Columbia Journalism Review, July 11, 2016,in%20shorthand%2C%20and%20partly%20by

[ii] Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Sphere, London. 2003.

[iii] Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace: A Memoir. Ballantine Books: NY, 1994.