After a series of adventures abroad, or even here in this country, one is ready to return home because everything seems so familiar and more comfortable. You remember the movie “The Wizard of Oz” when Dorothy, after her multifaceted adventures, said, “There is no place like home.”? She was glad to return to “familiarity.”
In the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-12) Jesus tells his disciples that he is looking forward to “going home.” But this time he is ready to take his disciples with him when they are ready. He is soon to head for Jerusalem to undergo suffering, death, and resurrection, and then commission his followers to proclaim his message. And after they die they will go with him. This sounds appealing enough.
But where is “home” for Jesus? Fundamentally, it is to be with God the Father. In the Gospel Jesus definitively states, “No one comes to the Father EXCEPT through me.” This indicates a special bond. Ultimately, going “home” means going to heaven. This is what the feasts of the Resurrection and Ascension actually mean.
But let us get some kind of a perspective on this in order to understand it. One of the fundamental themes of the Bible is the “promise of Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” (“Immanuel” = Hebrew “God with us”) In both the Old and the New Testaments there was the basic belief that God would be with his people in order to give them ongoing encouragement and support while confronting challenges to their belief system.
The church’s liturgical year (the Christological focus on maintaining the develoment of the Immanuel promise) appears to have a tiadic dimension. The first stage of the church year (Hence:CY) is Advent/Christmas. This is the time when the Immanuel promise is made (primarily through the influence of Isaiah, especially 7: 10-14). Soon, Jesus is born and is considered the fulfillment of the Immanuel promise (Matthew 1: 20-23). God is present with his people in the person of Jesus. Advent promises, Christmas delivers.
The second stage of the CY is Lent/Easter. This is the time when Jesus preaches and deals with people, manifesting compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and treating others with dignity. Above all, he is giving the example that he wants his disciple to give after he has left the earth. Toward the end of his life, Jesus experiences suffering and betrayal. Finally, he is crucified. A few days later he rises from the dead. His resurrection is a sign that “his side won.” Jesus’ life was the example for the disciples to follow.
The third state of the CY is the period of Pentecost. The resurrected Jesus commissions his disciples to carry on his work, namely the way to treat others. And in order to do that properly, he promises to send the Holy Spirit, which the feast of Pentecost describes. Now that Jesus is not going to physically be with his disciples, but will “ascend” to the Father, it is the Holy Spirit who will be fulfilling the Immanuel promise.
To see the trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together we have only to notice Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan as reported by Matthew (3:16-17). After the baptism, the heavens are opened and Jesus “… saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighted on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”” John the evangelist states that John the Baptist testified that Jesus is the Son of God. (John 1: 34) The stage was set for what was to be the ongoing backround of Jesus’ public life, namely the Trinity functioning together and the expressed statement of the divinity of Jesus. (John 1:29-34)
In summary. Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is “going home,” and he tells the disciples that they too will eventually “go home” after their ministry is finished. Their “ministry” is to preach to others the example of Jesus, namely, justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. The resurrected Jesus will “go home” to the Father at the Ascension. And the disciples will expect the coming of the Holy Spirit (the “creative power of God”) on Pentecost which will provide them with encouragement to continue preaching the message of Jesus to others.
The underling theme of Jesus’ and the disciples’ ministry is continuing the “Immanuel promise” (God with us). The CY celebration of Advent/Christmas made that promise and kept it when God became human in the person of Jesus. Jesus continued that promise during his life, death, and resurrrection as proclaimed by the CY’s celebration of Lent/Easter. The disciples further continued that promise when Jesus went home to the Father (feast of the Ascension) and received the Holy Spirit (Pentecost).
It is important to remember that the Immanuel promise (God will be with his people) is present in the baptized who are able to proclaim the message of Jesus to the world. And when that is finished, it is time to “go home.”