“I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 16:7)
We’ve seen in the sermon that the ascension means that Jesus is truly absent from us. He has been glorified and exalted into heaven, He has gone to the Father, He has gone away. As His disciples, we are called to witness faithfully, in the face of bullying and persecution, in His absence, in hope that we will meet Him when we are cast out of the synagogues.
But the ascension should never be detached from Pentecost. Jesus goes away, but in going away, He promises to send His Spirit. Jesus goes away, but at the same time assures His disciples that they will not be left orphans. He goes away, but says that He will come to us and be with us through His Spirit.
In 16:7, Jesus says it is for our good that He goes away, because unless He goes away the Spirit, the Paraklete, will not come. And it’s good for the Spirit to come, because through the Spirit Jesus’ disciples do greater works than He did. Because Jesus goes away, things are going to happen that could not happen when He was present.
During Jesus’ lifetime, He ate and drank frequently with the Twelve. He fed 5000 people on one occasion, and 4000 on another occasion. He had other meals and feasts throughout His ministry. But the sum total of people who ate and drank with Jesus during His lifetime would be somewhere in the thousands.
Now He has gone away, and the Spirit has come. Now Jesus is absent in the flesh, but present in the Spirit. . . . Throughout the world, today, there are millions eating and drinking with Jesus, drawn from every tribe and tongue and nation. Jesus never did that. That could only be done when Jesus went away to His Father, and sent the Helper to be with us.
—Peter Leithart, “Eucharistic Meditation on John 16:7“