May is often a beautiful time of year, late spring with gardens at their best and days becoming longer. In the church we have endured the discipline of Lent, walked with Christ the Way of the Cross and celebrated his resurrection on Easter Sunday. We can relax for a while, enjoying his presence with us, until at Pentecost we are energised by the sending of his Holy Spirit.
But before Pentecost comes Ascension Day, tucked away on a Thursday evening. It is the celebration of the moment when the disciples finally said goodbye to the Jesus they could see and hear and touch, and waited, preparing themselves by prayer, for Christ’s spirit to come and be with them for evermore.
As Peter, James and John climbed the mountain with Jesus their thoughts must have gone back to that other mountain, where they had seen Jesus shine in glory just before he began his last journey to Jerusalem. The three disciples had seen the figures of Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, and Peter’s reaction was to erect shelters so that the experience would continue. He wanted to prolong the moment and put off having to return to ordinary life.
Peter had wanted to hold onto the precious time on the mountain but had to move on. In John’s gospel Mary Magdalene recognises Jesus in the garden and wants to throw her arms around him and keep him close to her forever, yet Jesus says, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my father”. Instead, she is given a task to do – to go and tell the other disciples.
But this final parting is different. There are no tears, no attempts to persuade Jesus to stay. Instead, the disciples return to Jerusalem and joyfully worship in the temple. They have finally learned to let go.
Letting go is one of the hardest lessons we all have to learn. Clinging to the past, whether it is always wishing we could return to better times, or an attempt to keep things just as they always have been never brings us real joy. In trying to avoid the sadness of letting go we prevent ourselves from appreciating what the present has to offer. So, let’s enjoy the lovely (hopefully!) spring days, and resolve to stay in the present, giving thanks for what we have and not dwelling in the past.