It’s been wonderful when Peter’s flown in from the W. Indies for a few weeks’ leave, after an absence of about three years. Similarly, when I’ve visit him, it’s been exciting to fly out of Gatwick, make the long journey to Grenada, and to find him waiting for me at Point Seline airport. We have so much to talk about, and we seem to spark off a mischievous sense of humour in each other. Though we are very close, no quarter is given or expected when we play chess. I’m sure many of you will have had the same joy when family or friends have visited you, or you them.
But the time comes when we must return to our respective homes and places of work. Then airports can become painful places. Our emotions are so mixed. Part of us wants to prolong the time before we are separated, while part of us wants to get it over. After all, we’ve said all that can be said. So why prolong the agony? And we both want to return to our respective homes and work. That’s where we find fulfilment. That’s where we belong. That’s what we want for each other and for ourselves.
These reflections occurred to me during Paschaltide. First of all, there’s the disciples’ unbelievable joy when the risen Lord appeared to them after His death. Not surprisingly, Magdalene wanted to cling onto Him. This seemed a little bit like a loved one returning after a long absence. We instinctively want to give him or her a big hug.
But then the time came for Jesus to ascend in glory to His heavenly Father. Although He would disappear from the disciples’ sight, there’s no sign of their being sad or depressed. That struck me as surprising. But they knew that in the ascension Jesus, the man, would be glorified. He would sit triumphantly at the right hand of His heavenly Father. That was His reward for the fulfilment of His mission on earth.
And this was not only a personal triumph for Jesus; where He has gone, we have been called to follow. He has told us He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. That is what the disciples wanted for Jesus and for us. And that is why they rejoiced at His ascension.
This is something like Peter and I being glad that each of us finds fulfilment in the place where he’s lived and worked for decades - even though that means our being physically separated by thousands of miles.
We’ve found that distance hasn’t made us grow apart. Love and friendship can span the miles. True, the way we relate to each other has to be different. That’s what Jesus wanted to impress upon Magdalene, when He released Himself from her embrace. This was not morally wrong, but after His resurrection she had to learn to express her love for Him in a new way. He was preparing her and us for the time when we would not be physically present to each other, and would be unable to see and hear each other.
But I’m sure that, like Peter and me, you have found that we can be much closer to each other, than some, who are physically near to each other, but, with bitterness and resentment, have become very distant. For them being together can be a source of tension.
Obviously, if we are to remain close, it’s important that we should keep in touch through phone calls, letters and if possible e-mails and Skype. Otherwise we could drift apart. These ways in which we keep close to those who are far away reminded me of what Jesus had said before His departure. He assured His disciples that he would still be with them, but in a new way. He would be in their love, and they in His. That is much more intimate than simply being physically together. In fact Jesus disowned those who simply claimed a nodding acquaintance with him, without any commitment to Him.
Like any friendship, we must work at it to keep it alive. We must make a point of keeping in touch –with Jesus through prayer and the sacraments.
The comings and goings at an airport and how they effect our love for each other have helped me to have a better understanding of how we can be close to the risen Lord, now that he’s no longer physically present here on earth. That’s why the Ascension is a joyful, glorious feast, not a sad one!