Growing up, I used to watch episodes of the Lone Ranger. Each show ended in much the same way. The Lone Ranger rode into town, solved whatever problem needed solving and then, without so much as a word, then rode off into the sunset, leaving the grateful townspeople to gaze into the horizon and say, “We didn’t even get to thank him.” The Lone Ranger was not one for goodbye scenes.
Jesus is no Lone Ranger. In the Gospel of John, Jesus talks at length with his disciples, preparing them for his departure. Again and again he calls them to remember all that has happened with him, saying “I am going away. Where I go you can not follow…A little while and you will no longer see me.” The disciples are confused, not yet understanding the reality of his impending death. Yet, some of it was bound to sink in. Jesus prepared them for the future, when they would make better sense of his departure.
Certainly the disciples are impacted by this “goodbye scene.” Some react by wanting to deny that it could happen, that Jesus could leave them. Mostly, it appears, they were baffled, maybe with mixed feelings, wanting to believe the truth of his words, but deny the reality of their impending loss. Jesus die? How could this happen?
One of the most difficult things in life is saying goodbye. Whether we are leaving behind family and friends, losing a loved one to death, or facing the loss of our capacity to do the things we once were able to do. Many things happen that prompt us to say goodbye. Often that’s the last thing we want to do. We have a strong fear that letting go of something will leave such a void in our lives that we can’t go on. Powerful fear that letting go of those we love will would leave us like orphans, vulnerable and neglected.
Jesus leaves his disciples with a promise. “I will not leave you orphaned.” His promise is that God’s spirit will not abandon them during their time of need, as they face their loss. Though they experience fear, he gives them the promise of peace. “Peace I leave with you.” This is more than a casual goodbye. “My peace is give to you,” says Jesus. The peace that he had to trust God even in the midst of pain and suffering. Even unto death on a cross. “My peace I give to you.”
As I read this “goodbye scene,” I wonder how I might have reacted had I been a disciple listening that day. I’m sure a fear of abandonment would have been strong in me. “What do you mean, you’re leaving? How can you leave me now, when things are just starting to get good?” I wonder if I would have even heard the part about the Spirit, with all the talk of leaving in the air.
No, Jesus is no Lone Ranger. The promise of peace that he gives us makes it possible for us to face our goodbyes, not ride off into the sunset, or be left alone to ponder, “I didn’t have a chance to thank him.”
Much of life, I think, is lived somewhere between these two goodbye scenes. The desire to ride off into the sunset mixed with the need to say goodbye. Our hope is that God does not leave us orphaned. God is close at hand. In God we live and move and have our being. This hope helps us to face the many losses in life with a kind of peace that allows us to say goodbye to an old way of life, hello to a new one. It doesn’t take away our fear, our confusion, our worry, but gives us strength in the midst of it.
I thank God that Jesus does not ride of into the sunset and leave us behind with the loose ends of a confused gratitude. Thank God for the Spirit of peace in the midst of our unsettledness, the spirit that helps us say goodbye, that moves us beyond our losses to the hope of new life. Thanks be to God.