By Sister Agnes Brueggen
“with cries of gladness… shouts of joy.” (Psalm 47)
Shouts of joy at the loss of a treasured mentor? Joy in saying goodbye to a friend you may never again see on this earth? Glad that a loved one is moving far away? You must be kidding! Yet the Ascension Scriptures do present an occasion to look anew at Easter Joy—hand in hand with departures. Perhaps it is that mysterious “joy of letting go” that often is attributed to Francis of Assisi? Or perhaps it is Jesus’ invitation to delve deeper into the sources of JOY he has promised?
At the Last Supper, Jesus speaks long and lovingly about the gifts he has given, the legacy he is leaving, and the hopes he has for his friends. And, after this “farewell,” Jesus is crucified and dies. Then, he is raised! Hopes that were dashed are rekindled. And now, once again, Jesus prepares to leave. No cries of gladness. Can Jesus’ friends really rejoice in yet another loss of his physical presence?
Brother David Steindl-Rast reminds us of one sure way to embrace such a challenging situation. He writes: “It is not joy that makes us grateful; it is GRATITUDE that makes us joyful.” The apostles had much to be grateful for. They shared a personal relationship with Jesus. They witnessed healing miracles, changed hearts, renewed lives; continually they received their Teacher’s wisdom. Although they doubted occasionally, they did not abandon the One whose call gave their life purpose. All this was reason for gratitude! And their story is our story. Like the apostles, we have experienced the Holy One’s presence—we are witnesses of God’s goodness. We have received ordinary and extraordinary gifts of merciful love, not least of which is our Mercy heritage. More reasons for gratitude! And gratitude always brings along her sister, JOY!
And then there is HOPE! Ephesians reminds us of this precious gift. Humanly speaking, it is difficult to be joyful when one is hopeless. But, look around! The selfless commitment of sisters and colleagues offers hope! Works of mercy and actions of justice at our borders offer hope! Bold messages from prophetic leaders offer hope! Simple acts of kindness, from friends and strangers alike, offer hope! Completion of a seemingly impossible task offers hope! The return of spring, glorious in greening trees and fragrant flowers, offers hope! And Jesus’ promised Spirit? Immense hope!
My scriptural imagination sees Jesus having a heart-to-heart chat with his friends before the formal Ascension blessing, gently reminding them of all they have to be grateful for—and all they can look forward to with hope. Will the “eyes of our hearts be enlightened” to see the hope of our future, as well as our present “call”? Will we allow “shouts of joy” to temper the sadness of our losses? Will we practice gratitude? Today, like the apostles, let us choose to serve with great JOY and new actions of HOPE, ever GRATEFUL for the presence of the Spirit!
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