In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon points out that there are cycles or seasons, not only in nature, but also in our lives. One of the implications of cycles and seasons is that there is an appropriate time and place for every activity. If we take action outside the appropriate time, we cannot expect good results. To illustrate his point Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NIV)
If I were to paraphrase Solomon’s thought I could say that there’s a time to come and a time to go, a time to say ‘hello’ and a time to say ‘goodbye.’ To put it another way, departing or saying ‘goodbye’ is just as much a part of the natural order as arriving and saying ‘hello.’ When the time comes it is for our best to say ‘goodbye.’ And to over-stay one’s time when it is appropriate to leave will only lead to unfortunate consequences. This is a concept that Jesus’ disciples had a hard time understanding.
During the last meal Jesus ate with His disciples before the crucifixion Jesus told them, “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:5-7 NIV)
Some goodbyes are bitter-sweet. We’re sorry to see someone go, but we’re also happy for them because we know that their going is for their benefit. For example, I choked up when our daughter left for college. I knew I would miss her terribly. Yet, at the same time, I was happy for her. I knew that her going was the right thing for her.
Jesus’ goodbye filled the disciples with grief. They couldn’t understand Jesus’ longing for the glory He enjoyed with His Heavenly Father before coming into the world. They weren’t glad for Jesus that He was going back to the Father. They couldn’t share in His joy.
Jesus going away was not only for His own benefit, He said it was for the good of the disciples, too. Your translation may say that Jesus’ going was to the disciples’ advantage. I’m sure that in their minds the disciples were questioning what good or advantage there could possibly be in Jesus’ going away. But Jesus said there was a direct linkage between His going and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would not come unless Jesus left.
It was the Holy Spirit which would guide the disciples into all truth. It was the Spirit which would empower them not only to live righteous lives, but also to do the work Jesus left for them. It was the Spirit which would convict the world through the proclamation of the Gospel which Jesus commissioned the disciples to do.
Why wouldn’t the Spirit come unless Jesus left? Though the disciples didn’t understand until later, the Spirit couldn’t come until Jesus finished the work of redeeming mankind. It was His sacrifice on the cross which paid the debt for sin. Paying the debt opened the way for the Spirit to come.
There was another blessing in Jesus’ going. Earlier in the evening He told His disciples that He was going away to prepare a place for them. One day, He would come back and bring them to their new home.
Saying goodbye doesn’t mean forgetting. Often we will give each other a parting gift as a memento of the time we spent together. Through the years those keepsakes keep alive the memory of the one who gave them.
Jesus also gave His disciples a memento at His goodbye. That same evening He gave them some unleavened bread and called it His body. He gave them a cup of wine to drink and said it was His blood. He told the disciples to keep His memory alive by continuing to eat and and drink when they met together. In all the centuries since Jesus went away, His disciples have continued to do what He asked. Each week we bring out the mementos again. We remember His body which He sacrificed for us. We remember His blood which paid our debt.
The bread and juice also remind us of Jesus’ promise. He’s gone to prepare a home for us. One day He’s coming back to escort us to the home He’s prepared.
The bread and juice also remind us that Jesus didn’t leave us alone while He’s away. We have His Spirit living in us. His Spirit is the down payment on the inheritance He’s promised us. His Spirit gives us the power we need to live godly lives.
Today as we participate in this memorial again, let’s not be filled with grief like the disciples were. Instead let’s eat and drink with thanksgiving for the promises Jesus made. Let’s rejoice that one day He’s coming back!