Clergy Letter for May, by the Rev’d Derek Hinge
Saying ‘good-bye’ is a common enough occurrence in our everyday lives. Friends visit and we say ‘good-bye’ as they leave us. We have a great holiday in the sunshine and, as the plane takes off, we say ‘good-bye’ to people we have met and the places we have seen as they become absorbed into our memories. Sometimes our ‘good-byes’ are in more somber circumstances as someone whom we know and love is dying. And, when someone has died, relatives and friends talk of the funeral service as a saying ‘good-bye’, a first step in the bereavement process. As I write this on Easter Monday, this theme of saying ‘good-bye’ is particularly apt for our family as, in a week’s time, our youngest son is emigrating to western Canada!
The story of the last two weeks of Jesus’s life, which occupy 25% of the four gospel accounts, can be seen as a preparation by Jesus of the disciples to say ‘good-bye’ to them. The first part of that process is marked by the church in the events of Passiontide and Holy Week that we have just experienced. But, as we know, after the resurrection, he appeared many times to many people. So he had not completed his ‘good-bye’. As he told his friends, he had not yet ascended to his father, nor had he fulfilled his promise to send the Holy Spirit to be his continued, unseen, risen presence poured out for all mankind. In the period between Easter and Pentecost, which this year occupies the month of May, there is a waiting time, a time of expectation, a time of hope, a time of prayer and obedience. Biblically it is the time between the endings of the Gospels and the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles chapter two.
First comes Ascension Day (May 25th) when Jesus is seen visually for the last time by the disciples. This is indeed their final ‘good-bye. What is remarkable about the accounts we read in the New Testament, is that, far from being a sad occasion, it was greeted by the disciples with great joy, with times of regular worship in their homes and in the temple, and with meetings for prayer. Their actions point to a sense of expectation, hope, promises yet to be fulfilled.
They had been given a task to do – “go into all the world and make disciples” – and they had been promised his continued presence “lo, I am with you always to the end of the world”. And that was the promise that came to pass on that first day of Pentecost (June 4th) when the Spirit of Jesus became powerfully present, and equipped those first disciples with the authority and energy to be obedient to the task Jesus had given them.
We are called in our generation to continue that commission. So, during this season, our Archbishops have called us to spend time praying in a very specific way with the theme ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. Between Ascension and Pentecost, what is being called 5@5, is an invitation to pray at 5pm each day for five people to come to know Christ.
Like all the best good-byes starting with Jesus’s good bye to his disciples, they never need be times of sadness. Rather “good-bye” is a greeting full of hope, expectation, preparation, challenge, new beginnings and new energy. There is an obscure little story in the Old Testament (Genesis 31) in which Laban and his nephew Jacob have a falling out over rights and property. Eventually they make their peace with a covenant which is marked physically by a pillar of stone surrounded by a pile of stones. To Jacob this monument looked like a watchtower (Hebrew Mizpah) and so he says to Laban. “The Lord watch between you and me when we are absent from one another”; which is another way of saying ‘God be with you until we meet again’ or ‘good-bye’.