May 13, 2021
In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says to Romeo, as they separate until the next day: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow….” Clearly, it is a sorrowful moment for anyone in love to be separated from the beloved for even a short time. The parting is sorrowful because there is something in the relationship that has come to an end. Perhaps this experience is captured best in another famous verse which was made popular by Ella Fitzgerald’s singing of the Cole Porter song, “Ev’rytime we say goodbye, I die a little…Why the Gods above me, who must be in the know. Think so little of me, they allow you to go.” Yes, the parting of loved ones is a sorrowful experience.
Yet, the sweetness lies in the hope of reunion. In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet thought that their reunion would be the next day. In this sense, their parting is only a precursor to the sweetness of being reunited. Certainly, in the case of Christians who are separated from loved ones in death, any sweetness comes not only from keeping memory of them, but also from the hope of being reunited in the life to come. After all, for Christians—as they are reminded as they pray the Preface of the Funeral Liturgy—“life is changed, not ended.”
The feast of the Ascension reminds us that the disciples had their own “sweet sorrow” to process. They are understandably sad that Jesus in his bodily form had left them. But, they know that he continues to be with them through his Holy Spirit. In this belief, they now continue his work as “they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs” (Mk 16:20). Just as the early disciples did, we believe that Jesus is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, and through the gift of his Holy Spirit, we continue the work of the Risen Lord, working for the resurrection of society.