On Thursday, May 30, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Our Mass schedule is Wednesday, May 29 at 5:30 p.m. and Thursday, May 30 at 8:00 a.m.
It’s an experience that most of us have had at one time in our lives, or more than once. Especially if we’re of the older sort. The experience is this: that someone we love greatly will be with us here in this life for just a little while longer. It may be a matter of hours, a matter of days or weeks, a matter of a few months based on medical diagnosis.
Most of us have looked at someone we love and thought to ourselves, “Today is Sunday. By next Sunday, one short week, they will not be with us anymore.” The death watch commences at some point. It proceeds forward as time marches on. Eventually, in a short period of time, the watch ends.
In today’s Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ death watch, which looks a little different from the death watches we’ve experienced with loved ones and friends. Mostly, our death watches proceed forward in a hospital room, a nursing home, in a hospital bed in one’s own living room, in assisted living, under the auspices of hospice. In some place where we witness life being drained from the physical body of a family member or friend.
As the Apostles are invited into Jesus’ death watch by the Lord’s own admission: “I will be with you only a little while longer,” they look at the One about to die in a short time and see a pretty healthy person. They have a hard time taking Jesus serious. The Lord doesn’t have cancer, or heart disease, or blocked arteries from all the fried food he’s consumed over his life. He looks as healthy as he ever was. Healthy as a horse, even one disqualified from the Kentucky Derby. But instead of being disqualified from a horse race, Jesus is going to be “disqualified” from the likes of this world, after Judas left them and commenced his dirty deed of betrayal.
Therefore, it’s very difficult for the Apostles in the Upper Room, sitting there in the presence of the Master Teacher, listening to him speak of his impending death…. It’s very difficult for them to picture his dying anytime soon as we would see someone we know is dying before us.
There’s a certain comfort in embracing this Gospel reading 5 weeks into the Easter Season of celebrating our Lord’s resurrection from death. Jesus’ death watch brings us back to a state of reality that, even though in our hearts and minds we live the holy truth that God raised his Son from the dead, we never stop confronting the harsh reality that death for ourselves or those we love is never far distant in our lives. Even when someone looks quite robust and heathy, like Jesus does in this Upper Room gathering.
With that taken note of, we turn to our other readings today to be enlightened by actions that call us to live beyond the death watch, not remaining in a place we’re never meant to stay after some intense sorrow and pain.
The first event is, shall we say, down to earth. In Acts, Paul and Barnabas find that the Spirit has led them to the great ancient city of Antioch, the city where they were first called Christians. And the message they share with believers of Jesus in that city is a universal, everlasting message; “Persevere in the faith.” Not just persevere, somehow on your own. But persevere in the faith. In Christ. Persevere in the center of our lives. Because the times of perseverance, as we know, are not infrequent. But it’s those few times in our lives when the death watch and the death reality can overtake our belief that Jesus has won the victory for good.
Persevering in the faith keeps us moving forward with the theological virtue of hope. Not a false hope, as some may say who lack faith and wisdom. Instead, a true hope grounded in the witness of the Apostles who stood before Christ after his death watch and his subsequent death, reporting it for all generations. What they reported allows us to persevere in the faith.
The second event connected to the death watch of Jesus in John’s Gospel, chapter 12, is the Gospel writer’s vision from the Book of Revelation. The one who sees a new heaven and a new earth, where the former heaven and the former earth had passed away. We’ve all seen some pretty amazing things in our lives, one of them being the Red Sox actually winning a World Series. We’ve all seen some visuals never to be forgotten. The birth of a child. Three 7’s coming up on a slot machine. But how about a new heaven and a new earth?
The Apostle John is blessed to witness mystically, firsthand, a vision that God bestows upon him, reporting it for the eternal benefit of all generations. John sees that God’s dwelling is with the human race, right here and now in the body of believers. Many who come together as one. He reports from this mystical event also that God will wipe every tear from our eyes – only tears of joy in heaven – and that there is no more death, wailing, mourning, or pain. No more pain of politics? I can’t get there fast enough!
John’s holy vision, of course, is a post-death watch and the post-death of the Son of Man, to which he is a witness to both. A vision centered in our joy being made complete. The best part about it? It’s not a fairy tale. It’s the real deal. It’s the cash settlement of why Jesus did what he did. A cash settlement that is not partial, but more than we ever bargained for.
The death watch of Jesus culminates in his death; he didn’t lie to them about the Cross that was coming quickly after Judas left, whether Christ was healthy looking or not. So, carry with you the great anticipation of seeing again those you watched die, and now in a state of blessedness we pray. For he truly is raised, and so are we.
It would be accurate to say that some important conversations take place at the breakfast table. Sometimes those conversations are with others, and other times they are with ourselves. I have some of my best conversations when I’m sitting at the kitchen table eating my oatmeal over here, when nobody else is around.
Breakfast conversations tend to set the path, the mood, the purpose for the upcoming day. Even conversations where you have to speak loudly to the other person you’re talking to, so they can hear, like you would have to do at the usually loud Gold Star Restaurant.
But here on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the conversation proceeds in much softer tones and voices, calm minds and hearts, with confidence and assurance that who they see sitting there before them is the real deal, for the 3rd time. This breakfast conversation with Jesus is what every breakfast should look like and taste like in this passing world.
And the look and taste is, “Do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, I do.” “Do you love me?” Yes, Lord, I just said I do. Didn’t hear me?” “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you. Why do you ask me three times in this breakfast conversation? Do you think I’m hard-headed or deaf?” “Yes Peter, I do. But that will change soon. Feed my sheep.”
Breakfast conversations with Christ, the conversation that sets the tone for each day of our lives, is less about stuffing our own stomachs with oatmeal, eggs, home fries, and English muffins. And much more about feeding others.
In the Gospel accounts, this is the last time Jesus will eat with them here. When’s the last time Jesus will eat with us? We don’t know, but we know it’s soon. Feed his sheep.
Most days, the breakfast conversation is the one that sets the path for another day that God gives us here, knowing that those days are growing less in number. And it’s in the quiet of the early morning seashore that the Lord sets us up for the remainder of our lives with “Do you love me?” 3 times.
“Yes, Lord, I do. And we will prove it throughout this day, this evening, and all days.”