Absent but Present

By: Rev. Craig Shepperd

We celebrated Easter Sunday a few weeks ago. In this season we are reminded that, in the resurrection, we hold onto a great hope. Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the grave. The Church, thus, serves the world by proclaiming this hope. We point people to this truth: in spite of Jesus’ bodily absence, he is still very much present with us.  At the same time, we are dealing with the reality of a pandemic, which seems to squelch this hope. It is a reminder that we find ourselves in the middle of the already and the not yet.

Jesus’ work on the cross and its culmination in the resurrection is final. There is nothing we can add to it, and there is certainly nothing we can take away from it. The Church is both a participant in this already Kingdom and the Church also waits on the not yet completion of what is still to come. We anticipate; we imagine the ultimate overcoming. It is the role of the Church to proclaim the hope that God will move to bring forth ultimate possibility next to what feels like ultimate struggle. We must continue to seek and proclaim the promise that God is acting to transform possibility into an actuality of love and peace, a reality in which the struggle that seems to always be threatening us is eliminated.

The work of the cross and the victory of the resurrection breed hope. Hope trusts in the promises of God. Hope seeks the action of God that brings forth a new reality. This reality is God’s continued, coming Kingdom. It is more than optimism. Andrew Root states, “Optimism stands in the current reality, wishing to make the best of each individual experience. But hope stands knee-deep in the history of this reality yearning for the action of God to bring forth a new reality in which everything in this reality is reconciled and redeemed.”[1]

So, in order for the Church to be faithful proclaimers of this hope we must be active. We seek to participate in the action of God—by placing our actions in line with God’s actions. The Church must not only desire God’s coming future; it must be an embodiment of that future in the world by participating in its suffering and witnessing to God’s action within the world. Jesus does not want his Church to rationally commit to a set of beliefs and facts. Discipleship is not merely about Sunday School. Unfortunately we have become hoarders of biblical knowledge and have forsaken our mission beyond the walls. Jesus is calling us to taste a new reality, “to recognize that as his disciples we are participating in the very action of God”[2] to bring forth the Kingdom as it is in heaven. We are co-laborers. We do not bring it about. We live in it. We reenact it, even if it is not fully here yet.

Jesus’ physical absence does not mean he forsakes us. It is not a loss of hope. It is a fulfillment of hope, and for the Church it is an invitation to proclaim that hope. Our presence, our activity in the world as God’s hope-bearers is the embodiment of Jesus in the world claiming, “I am the life and the resurrection.”[3] So, we must be present.

[1] Andrew Root. Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 2012.  64.

[2] Ibid. 34.

[3] John 11:25

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