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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Real Absence

Ascension Day 2014
Every year I have little to say about this Great Feast of Christ's life except "it explains everything."

At times, as I read the latest headlines about murder, mayhem, injustice and untold suffering, it seems like important theological information. While my own life is sufficiently pleasant that I have little room or reason to complain (and it is amazing to me how much I do complain) in reality any number of folks endure great trials. Life is hard for many and very hard for more than we realize. So the question often comes up, "If Jesus is the Messiah and He has defeated Satan, Sin and Death, why???"

There is a triumphalist strain in Christianity. The resurrection does that sort of thing to people of faith. The power of Hope can create such joy that it can border on denial. "Our Lord reigns!' is so true and beautiful that it is easy to forget the location of the throne is "in heaven" and that we are still praying for "earth" to line up with the heavenly realms. Jesus is not here, not like He will be some day!

Ascension Day is the Feast of Christ most focused on church, to me. It is when we hear the angel ask, "Men of Galilee why do you stand here looking up to the sky?" It is a feast which redirects our attention to the work at hand. The work spelled out in Matthew 28:16-20; making disciples, baptizing people and instructing them and calling them to keep the instruction of Jesus. Of course, as He ascends to heaven (He is really gone) we cling to the promise that "He is with us always to the end of the age." In John's Gospel the promise is expressed a bit differently (I will not leave you orphaned) and it is all predicated on the work of the Holy Spirit. The life of Jesus is among us in the Spirit at work in our minds and hearts.

So the real absence of Jesus does matter. He does not reign fully among us. The 'bad guys' still think they are winning, at least sometimes, and there are moments when it appears that they are right. The church is the primary presence of Jesus at this time. That is not music to the ears of individualists (whether baptized or not) but it is the messy reality of our current situation. This is not good news to those folk who have been disappointed and even hurt by the church in its all too human failings. Jesus is here, but it is mainly through people (fallen, imperfect, inconsistent, weak in faith and commitment Christians--like you and me). He is present in Word and Sacrament, we are not alone, He is with us, but those are mediated presence which stir up a longing for more and remind us of the absence. Some days we want more than a book and some bread. Some days we want the church to be more like Jesus.

And such longing is good. Today we celebrate His return to the Father, and we continue to await that day when He comes back. Until then, it is our turn to be faithful and do what He tells us. It is our turn to be His hands and feet, mouth and ears. It is our turn. Pray we do take it more seriously. Please pray for the church until "He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead."

Please pray for our Fundraising Dinner Saturday night to benefit the Church Health Center and an inner city pastor working with at risk youth and their families. (Donations are welcome; sent to St. Andrews, 106 Walnut Collierville TN 38017)

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