When letting go means holding on

WelCom May 2021 Ascension of the Lord: Sunday 16 May, 2021 James Lyons My mother died on her own. Family had been with her for long periods over several days….

WelCom May 2021

Ascension of the Lord: Sunday 16 May, 2021

James Lyons

My mother died on her own.

Family had been with her for long periods over several days. Her slow, steady decline signalled the end was not far. But the long vigil had been exhausting, so because she looked comfortable and settled, it was felt the watching could be put on hold and all should get some rest. Two hours later the Rest Home called with the news she had died.

It was as though she had also been waiting – waiting for everyone to leave before she herself let go. Many have had similar experience with the death of loved ones. It is not uncommon for the last breath to follow the departure of the last person to leave the room.

For people of faith, it is easy to understand why those we love and who love us should not be distressed when the time comes to leave. Faith tells us we are never alone; that physical absence is not a barrier to communion, to remaining united with one another.

Faith can see death as a doorway into an adjoining room, or a bridge that takes me across the chasm of death into the brightness of unending life. Through the journey love stays with me, holding everything and everyone that contributed to the love that filled the life I lived here.

For me, this is the great message of the Ascension.

God became one of us in the person of Jesus and lived through all the experiences that make, develop and challenge our humanity.

The humanity of Jesus was not abandoned when he had finished with it. The Word did not become flesh to destroy the flesh but to enrich and honour it and redeem it to the point where it could be taken up into the realm of God.

The Ascension of Jesus is the crowning glory of his time on earth and the promise that our own journey is heaven bound. It took place close to the Mount of Olives where the ‘Passion Journey’ of Jesus began. His life, death and resurrection climax now in his return to God.

My mother died 22 years ago, early Easter Monday morning. The date was 5 April and it coincided with Easter Monday again this year, making this reflection on resurrection and ascension quite special for me.

Pope Francis has suggested we should picture Jesus as ‘a roped guide climbing a mountain’. With a rope firmly attached, Jesus leads the way, actually opening up the way and making it secure. Then, when all is in place, he pulls the rope that binds us to him, guiding us to him and then leading us on to God.

That is a powerful image; one that reassures and certainly tells us we are not alone or isolated on our journey.

I have been privileged in my priesthood to be with many people close to death. Some have struggled, accepting their dying only with great reluctance. But others have found great peace, as though they recognised the roped guide on the mountain. Their letting go of their loved ones enabled them to clasp hold of the rope that would lift them into God’s waiting arms.

This is the gift our loved ones leave us, without knowing they do so. With the eyes of faith we can see their confident trust in the one they have followed and who now guides them on the final climb to the summit.

Perhaps you can sense the fulfilment of the promise expressed by St Paul:

the gift of wisdom and perception…enlightening the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised…

I have heard of many instances where loved ones have died, like my mother, soon after those who have watched with them have left the room. They don’t need us for that final ascent. They also know that they do not really leave us.

We too have a rope around us, tying us to that ‘roped guide’, and his Gospel words, I am with you always… keep us together with all who, like Jesus, have gone from our sight.

The Ascension of Jesus reminds us that God and humanity are intertwined – roped together – and no one, the dead or the living, are out of reach.