How Do You Say Goodbye? 6-1-14

I often choose to preach about other passages than the assigned readings on Ascension Sunday. But today, we have an extra reason to look at the text about Jesus taking leave of the disciples. Maybe it can teach us something about saying goodbye, since we are in the midst of saying goodbye to Melaina Trice after 6 years. Maybe, if we read and pray and reflect, we can learn something that will help us in our leave-taking.

Acts 1:11 In my earlier account, Theophilus, I dealt with everything that Jesus had done and taught from the beginning until the day  he was taken up after he had given instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After the Passion, Jesus appeared alive to the apostles—confirmed through many convincing proofs—over the course of forty days, and spoke to them about the reign of God. On one occasion, Jesus told them not to leave Jerusalem, ”Wait, rather, for what God had promised, of which you have heard me speak,” Jesus said. “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized by the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” While meeting together they asked, “Has the time come, Rabbi?  Are you going to restore sovereignty to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It’s not for you to know times or dates that Abba God has decided. You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth.” Having said this, Jesus was lifted up in a cloud before their eyes and taken from their sight. They were still gazing up into the heavens when two messengers dressed in white stood beside them. “You Galileans—why are you standing here looking up at the skies?” they asked.  “Jesus who has been taken from you—this same Jesus will return, in the same way you watched him go into heaven.

June 1st, 2014

How Do You Say Goodbye?

We’re not very good at saying goodbye. In my experience most people have such hard feelings about having been left by someone important, or by too many people, that we avoid goodbyes altogether. We try to pretend it’s not happening. We ignore the pain and hope it will go away. Or we try not to get close to people in the first place(!)
In my old church we used to have interns from Switzerland come every fall who helped with all the work around the church. They were wonderful young people, enthusiastic about their work and anxious to make friends. I noticed after a few years that there were some people who opened their hearts to these young people and really benefitted from getting to know them.
Others, however, decided it was just too much emotional work. Why get to know someone who you are going to have to say goodbye too in 12 months? It’s too painful.
Well, it’s a little too late with Melaina. She has gotten under our skin and has been here long enough that most of us have a serious emotional investment in this wonderful person and it is going to be more painful than taking off a Band-Aid. I know I should have warned you when she stuck around for a few extra years that this time was coming and that it would be difficult, but here it is now.
We read this passage today about Jesus saying goodbye to his disciples and vice versa. In Acts they have been together 40 days after the resurrection. (In Luke, written presumably by the same people or person, the ascension happens more immediately.)
There are 3 things we can learn from this scripture reading about saying goodbye.
1. The first lesson we can learn about saying goodbye is that it’s important to take time to remember. During the 40 days of their time with the risen Christ, the reading says that Jesus spoke to them about the reign of God. Luke says that the first book included all the stories about their time with Jesus.
Remembering all the good times with someone you love to whom you have to say goodbye is a bittersweet thing to do. The hardest things to say goodbye to are the good times, the loving times, the best times. In fact you might not be able to say a really genuine deep goodbye without remembering those times with someone other than the person you have loved so much. You might have to practice in a situation where you can feel the grief that you feel, cry the tears that you need to cry.
Saying goodbye to someone you care about brings up all the feelings of saying goodbye to anyone you ever had to say goodbye to. That can be pretty painful. But the truth is, that if you really pay attention to saying goodbye well, it will help heal all those old hard feelings as well. Trust me. I’ve helped a lot of people say goodbye after doing the work myself.
The trick is know the difference between our feelings and reality or between our feelings and our thinking. Our feelings may say, “Don’t go” or “I won’t ever let you go.” like all the sentiments in a sappy love song. But once we work through those feelings, we can get to, “I will never forget you.” and “I will always love you.” Those might be hard to say too, but with the Spirit’s presence, we can find our way.
The second thing we can learn from this reading is not to stress out too much about the future. Jesus tells the disciples the Holy Spirit will soon come among them and comfort them in their grief and help them find their way into the future. He tells them not to leave Jerusalem, not to make drastic changes in their lives,but to know the Spirit is with them and will be with them.
Thirdly and finally, we may learn that saying goodbye sometimes leads to a bigger more important stage in our lives. Jesus tells the disciples that when the Spirit comes to them on Pentecost they will be witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Only once they let go do they realize what they have to do next.
And only once they let go do they realize that they have not lost anything they ever had. The only thing we lose is our dream, our fantasy that we could be together forever. The only thing we lose is our illusion that everything could stay like it was forever. Things change. Sometimes we have to say goodbye.
Our parents, our loved ones, our friends are the same way. There are times when we have to say goodbye, but if we say goodbye well, if we dare to feel the anger and the grief and the joy we find the support and the reassurance of the Spirit that will be with us forever.
It’s part of our reality. But we don’t lose anything we ever really had. The disciples found that Jesus was with them forever in another form through the Spirit. At St. Luke we will find that Spirit guides us through the changes as well, and that the things we’ve learned by having Melaina here for the last 6 years will stick with us for the long haul.