We are about to enter into the central Christian story. It is the story at the center of our faith. Often referred to as the Paschal (Easter) Mystery, this story is the central piece of the life and mission of Jesus. It will unfold for us over the next 50 days. Beginning with this Sunday, Passion Sunday we will be taken through a season of many parts ending with Pentecost. We will hear many stories within the one Story of our salvation. As we journey through this long season we will discover and reflect on the Paschal Mystery – the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as well as the coming of his Spirit to dwell within us. What does it mean for Jesus, for his disciples, for us?
For Jesus it is the culmination of his life and mission. Good Friday and the crucifixion means more than the death of his human, physical life. The story is one of sacrifice through death, through rejection, through abandonment. As the Passion accounts show us, the Crucifixion is a death, a painful death. But it is also a time when his friends leave him and he is left with a sense that he is even abandoned by God. Jesus is leaving behind what had been a life of giving love. But it was not the end.
The Resurrection, the Easter event was a receiving of New Life from God. It was not the life Jesus had before. It is different, a life that is fuller and complete. Easter Sunday is followed by the weeks of the Easter season. We will be touched by many stories of Jesus appearing to his followers. They will remember what he said and what he did. It will bring solace to them, but they will also be grieving, both the loss they feel and the way they rejected him. He will reveal to them the meaning of what has taken place. Gradually they will come into a fuller realization of what has happened and who Jesus was for them. But the joy of this and of having him in this resurrected presence will not last.
With the Ascension Jesus leaves again, returning to the parent God from whom all life comes. For the disciples this is the letting go that comes through grief. They could not cling to him as they did before. They could not cling to him as he was before. If they were to go on as Jesus called them to do, they had to let go. This letting go will allow them to go on with the mission they are given. As they let go, they are promised another presence of Jesus, one that will support them as they go on.
Pentecost event is the story of the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit will fill the disciples in a way that Jesus’ message and mission will remain active in them. The story of the Spirit’s descent is one of release to an experience of new life for the disciples. Jesus’ mission has become their mission. Through them and through others and through us the mission of Jesus’ will reach the ends of the earth. The gift of the Spirit is the culmination of many stories which give the full story of God’s love for us, in Jesus.
A little footnote to this great story – it connects to our own human experience. It is a story of transformation for Jesus, for the disciples and for us. The story of the next 50 days takes us through: death, to new life, to grieving and clinging, to letting go, to acceptance and to moving on. We have many deaths that touch us over our lifetime. They are losses for us and we will grieve, but they also take us to new life, to new spirit after grief. This is the experience of Jesus, of the disciples and of us.