While Jesus was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God. – Luke 24:51-53 (NRSV)
When left to my own instincts, I would rather ghost than say goodbye. My desire to flee is the same whether I’m sneaking out at the end of a dinner party or facing something more significant like a friend nearing death. I get tongue-tied searching for the perfect words or feel overwhelmed with vulnerability, and so I say nothing at all, quietly disappearing and avoiding anyone who tries to draw me out. It feels good in the moment, but too often the non-goodbye lingers, unsettled feelings following me wherever I hide.
Jesus’s final farewell to his disciples models a much better goodbye. There is no perfect dialogue, urgent proclamations, or witty last words. They are simply present to one another. Jesus blesses them and they are able to bless God in return. There is joy in the goodbye that leads to worship, to placing their shared love in the context of a larger sacred story that is not yet finished.
When we practice our own goodbyes in worship—memorial service, remembering the saints of the church, naming aloud our grief in prayer—we honor the great goodbye that Jesus gave. Through ritual we help even the most reluctant among us to offer a blessing or be blessed, to maybe even taste a morsel of joy in the midst of grief. By being present together we remember God’s presence, remembering that no goodbye can separate us from love.
May we remember that goodbye is a sacred part of the story of life, but it is never the end of the story. Amen.