One of the most difficult topics to speak about is death. Many people, especially the Chinese, consider the topic a taboo as it might bring bad luck. Of course, there are also many of us who might not mind speculating about death generally and academically. But most would find it difficult to talk about their own death with their loved ones. Yet we all know that death is a fact of life. We cannot avoid the reality. Certainly it is a painful confrontation because all departures are painful. This was the same situation of the disciples. They too were not willing to confront the imminent death of their master. Jesus had already told them, “I am going to the one who sent me.” Yet, not one of them asked, “Where are you going?” Why? Because they were sad at heart! They had become so attached to Jesus that His departure would leave a big hole in their lives.
But Jesus knew that He must broach this issue. It would be better to talk about His departure rather than to pretend that He was going away. Indeed, many a time in my pastoral ministry to the sick, I cannot but feel sorry that the dying patient and the loved ones have never spoken about death to each other. They would prefer to denythat death was near even when it is so obvious. This is unfortunate because they would miss the great opportunity to speak to each other about what is deepest in their hearts. So the pain would be even greater when it is time for them to leave each other because they would leave each other physically without any real assurance of hope, love and solidarity. That is why Jesus would not hide the fearful silence of His disciples. He brought it to the open.
But why do we not have the same courage like Jesus to speak about our own physical separation from our loved ones? Because, unlike Jesus, we do not know who we really are; and what is our real destiny in life. Although we profess our faith in the resurrection, we do not really truly believe in our hearts. Because if we do, then there is nothing to fear since death is but our union with God and that we do not really die but simply live in a new way. Not only will we have a new life and a life that is fulfilled with God, but we will also remain in communion with our loved ones in a new way. Death is not the end of our relationship with our loved ones but it will remain and be stronger in a new way as we will live with them in our spirits.
Indeed, that was the conviction of Jesus. He had no doubt that He was returning to His Father, the origin of life and love. He was conscious that He came from Him and that He belonged to Him. Only in union with the Father is He complete. But He was also aware that His going was not a real departure, as He would come again in a new and personal way to His disciples. He would come again in His Spirit, which would transcend all barriers. In fact, He would be even closer to them because He would live in them.
Today, we are called upon to imitate the apostles, Paul and Silas. We read of their courage and hope even when they were imprisoned, flogged and humiliated. Yet, we can see the high spirits of the apostles as they were praying and singing God’s praises in joy. What was the basis for their confidence even in the face of sufferings? Simply this: they were so conscious of the real presence of the Risen Lord in their lives and the Holy Spirit within them. That is why they did not feel the need to escape even when the doors of the jail were opened and the chains fell from them. They stayed behind instead. And thus when the prison warden wanted to kill himself out of hopelessness, Paul and Silas told him that he and his household could be saved if only they became believers in the Lord Jesus. In other words, if they too confessed and believed that Jesus is truly Lord, alive and present, then they would always find strength, hope and courage in the face of tribulations.
How then can we have the same conscious presence of the Risen Lord in us today?
We must be like the apostles who prayed and sang praises to God. We must in a special way pray for the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised us in the gospel that He would send to us. The Holy Spirit is none other than the Advocate, His own Spirit that would live in us. When the Holy Spirit dwells in us, then Jesus said, He will convict, convince and enlighten us as to who He really is. He will convict us firstly of our sin, which is the failure to recognize Jesus as the Risen Lord, the expression of the Father’s love for us and consequently by rejecting Him, we reject the gospel message as well. Secondly, the Holy Spirit will convince us who He really is, that He is one with the Father and thus identical with God Himself. Such a belief is only possible from within our hearts and not just in our minds. Finally, the Holy Spirit will force us to confront ourselves. In other words, He will judge us by allowing us to judge ourselves. For in rejecting the prince of this world, Jesus said, we are already condemned. This is because to reject Jesus as the Good News of God in person, is to reject life itself.
Let us then, as we prepare for the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, make ourselves more docile to the Holy Spirit through prayer and praises so that when He comes, the glory of the Risen Lord will fill us, bringing us joy, courage, hope, love and peace.