You know it is summertime when you call an office and get the recording, "sorry to miss your call, but I am out of the office the next two weeks. I will contact you when I return. If you need immediate assistance please contact my assistant..."
Today we hear similar words in a prayer from Jesus: and now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. This means that Jesus is out of the office. He says He will return, though He does not give us a return date. The church is office workers who scurry about trying to continue the family business until His return.
This past Thursday was Ascension Day. It is a major Feast of the church. The message that day is similar to the one we read today. "Jesus is no longer in the world" is probably the definition of the word "Ascension." It describes our world. It is the reason why being a church matters; matters very, very much.
Jesus calls Satan "the prince of this world" which means the Master of chaos and division is calling the shots. If the Devil is running things "the World" has a scent of Hell and it is at enmity with God. In a sense, Jesus must defeat the world. The only escape from the world is God's grace and our conversion. We are 'in the dark' (the Fourth Gospel makes that clear) but Jesus was sent as the Light of the World. Where sin reigns death abides. Having seen death numerous times this week, up close and personal, it is clear that death is still around. Yet, God has sent Jesus to unmask Satan as a false king and usurper.
In Jesus, God has won a grand victory. Sin and Evil are real, but mercy, forgiveness and resurrection are more real. Death is real, but resurrection and life are more real. This time, here and now is real, but eternal life is more real. We know the dark prince and his world, but now we know the Father God is more real.
Jesus' words, "I am no longer in the world" are bitter sweet. Since He told Mary in the Garden on Easter morning, "Stop holding Me, I must return to the Father'" we have known that the time of His earthly visitation was drawing to a close. no longer tangibly and wonderfully present among us. He is among us now as a Ghost (a Holy Ghost, or Spirit). It is sometimes less than satisfying.
Thursday I used the term "real absence" to describe our current situation with Jesus. His presence among us is mediated. I think we are often in denial about this, talking about Jesus as if the resurrection appearances continued to this day. He is present, in an "absent" sort of way:
- In and Through Scripture.
- In and Through sacraments
- In and Through the church.
Jesus is focused on the apostles in His prayer, the followers He left behind in the world. Lesslie Newbigin, writes eloquently about this in his commentary (The Light Has Come, p228). (on Jn 17:6ff). The work of Jesus is the communication of the name of God to a community. He does not bequeath to posterity a body of teaching preserved in a book--like the Qur'an. He does not leave behind an ideal or a program. He leaves behind a community--the Church... These disciples have received and believed this communication of the name.
We are part of that group. Our role is to reveal the Name, the true name of God, to a world which will hate us. [Jesus said: the world hates me so it will hate you].
Jesus offers admission to another Kingdom, so Satan and the World take offense. The human heart is the battlefield; eternal life and death are the options. And the Church, sinful men and women all, are the vehicle God has chosen to carry on the mission. Jesus is out of the office, but He will be back. If you need immediate assistance contact the church.
It is tempting for the church to be useful: teaching citizenship, helping the needy or organizing events to creaye a sense of community. Such things are part of our identity but they are the fruit of something deeper. First and most fully we are, in our current limited and fallible condition, to embody not just the teachings of Jesus, but the Lord Himself. He abides in and through us, WE (the church) are THE SACRAMENT of God has sanctified to reveal His name, until Jesus returns. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are the presence of Jesus in the world because He wills it so. He demands that we be unified and love one another.
It is sad to ponder such a vocation from within the church. Our failures as an institution are depressing. We all contribute to those failures by our own personal infidelity. However, Jesus does not call the church to be a super society of superior beings. He calls us to witnesses to the Name. If our lives do not fully reflect the truth, our mouths can still verbalize it. In Jesus you find God!
Jesus is no longer in the world. We are. In and through us He is active. Our decision to faithfully carry out our vocation will determine if the people in our day and time hear Him. If Jesus has left the building then we, who are still in it, must take up the challenge.