The author Ernest Hemingway once said “When two people love each other, there can be no happy ending”. There is a sense in which that is true. Sooner or later all relationships come to an end. Some of them are terminated by choice. One or the other or both decide to call it quits and they go their separate ways. That may be the saddest ending of all. Others are terminated by death. This is a normal part of life except when it comes prematurely. But even at a ripe old age the death of a loved one is sad. So Hemingway’s pessimistic statement would seem to be true. When people love each other, there can be no happy ending.
This Sunday, the Feast of the Ascension, tells of a different kind of parting. It was when Jesus left his disciples for the last time. He had already left them once through the door of death and that was devastating. But then He rose from the dead and began to surprise them with his presence. For a period of forty days He appeared to them at various times in various places. The disciples came to realise that He was alive for evermore. These appearances lasted only a few weeks. Then one day Jesus led them to a point near Bethany, He blessed them and was taken up to heaven. That was his final departure. They never saw him again.
This separation was not, however, a sad one. The Gospel tells us that after He was gone the disciples “returned to Jerusalem filled with joy”. This is one instance when people truly loved each other and there was a happy ending. What made it that way? For one thing, it was not really an ending, it was a transition. They simply moved from one kind of relationship into another. Up to that point they had always known Jesus as a flesh and blood person who came and went. That was now over. They would never know him that way again. From now on they would know him as a spiritual presence who would never leave. Death had already done its worst. It had separated them once but could never do it again and because that is true of Jesus, it is also true of others whom we have loved and lost. They are not gone. They have simply moved into another dimension of life. We cannot reach them there and that for us is sad. We miss them, but this separation is only for a while. Some day through faith in Jesus we will be together again. Then there will be no more sorrowful goodbyes. Small wonder that the disciples returned to Jerusalem with joy. The Ascension of Jesus meant they had a friend who would never leave them. Fr John