“Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father” (John 16:28). This our Lord says to His disciples, not to cause them concern or apprehension but to reassure them. “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God” (John 16:27).
No one can hear these words and not be struck by our Lord’s identification with His disciples. The Father loves the disciples because they have loved His Son. This love is the source of the identification between our Lord and His followers. Though our Lord Ascends to heaven, He remains through the work of the Spirit. “[Y]ou will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The act of witnessing to our Lord is nurtured by the dynamic identification of the Lord with His disciples and the disciples with Him.
We should never underestimate this identification. In fact, it is a constitutive element in the friendship established between us and our Lord. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). Great philosophers of the ancient world (e.g. Cicero) defined friendship as the discovery of another self. A friend finds a reflection of himself in the friend. A friendship is nourished on the desire to be one with the friend in thought and action. No one wishes to offend a friend. Our Lord, above all, wishes to remain close to us, so that even when He ascends to heaven, He remains with us, for, as He says, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).