Airports are vulnerable places. In various sections of the airport at any given moment you might witness or be a part of tearful farewells or joy-filled reunions. Even before you are required to have your baggage weighed and screened, and before you are forced to take off your shoes and remove the laptop from your carryon, you may find yourself at the curbside saying goodbye. Departing often means leaving behind people we care deeply about—parents, spouses, children, grandchildren. And for those who drive off, the longing for return begins almost immediately.
We’ve all had such experiences at airports, and have witnessed the experience of countless others during our lives.
When it came time for his ascension, Jesus knew that parting would be difficult—for him, and for those he loved. It was just a few weeks after all that went down in Jerusalem, from his triumphant entry into the Holy City to an even more remarkable exit from the tomb. Matthew tells us that on the mountain the disciples doubted. We can imagine that they each felt a myriad of real emotions—doubt, but also deep sadness, fear, even anger. Jesus knew that it wasn’t going to be easy for them, so he gave them, and all of us, something to do.
Of course it wasn’t just “something” to do, it wasn’t a scavenger hunt down the mountain and in the nearby villages of Galilee. It was what would become known as the “Great Commission,” the call to ministry for the men and women who were about to lead a community and eventually build a church.
The church began in the midst of the messiness of human experience, just as it continues to be called to serve the messiness of humanity today. Now, so long removed from those first days of Easter, it can be difficult for us, perhaps even impossible for us, to grasp what Jesus’ disciples were going through, the roller coaster of emotions they must have been experiencing. But that is only because we set those men and women apart from us, somehow believing that because they lived with Jesus, walked with Jesus, ate and drank with Jesus, they must have been different from us. They weren’t.
Among those disciples were brothers and sons who had left fathers and mothers to follow a teacher and a prophet. Among them were mothers and fathers who worried about their daughters back home. Among those first disciples were men and women who agonized about their future—would there be enough to eat, a place to sleep, a way to care for those among them who became ill. They, like us, worried about divisions among those in their communities and about leaders who were making those divisions worse.
When we set those first disciples apart from us, above us, we are then able to shirk from the responsibility of the commission Jesus offered not only them but us as well. When his disciples stood on the mountain full of fear and anxiety and doubt and rage, he told them to get out of their heads, to go and find others, to build a beloved community, not only in the next town but in all nations.
And now, as we sit in this sanctuary, as we stand in our kitchens and living rooms, full of fear and anxiety and doubt and rage, he’s telling us to do the same. Go out and find others who are afraid, anxious, skeptical, and angry. It won’t take you long to find them. Find them, and create with them a community rooted in love.
Our journey which began in Lent and proceeded through the days of Holy Week and continued through this season of Easter continues. Just as that journey of faith didn’t end in death, it didn’t end at the empty tomb, or in a locked room. And it didn’t end with Jesus being lifted up, or in the centuries of longing that followed, as his disciples through the ages await his return. Our journey continues in the Great Commission, our call to ministry, our call to community, our call to love. And soon our journey will continue as the winds of the Spirit send us forth at Pentecost.
Originally published in “Loose-leaf Lectionary for Mass,” Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Copyright 2020. For subscription information, visit: https://litpress.org/loose-leaf-lectionary/index