Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Absent Presence

Thursday, May 13, 2010 -- Week of 6 Easter
Ascension Day

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 963)
Psalms 8, 47 (morning)       24, 96 (evening)
Daniel 7:9-14
Hebrews 2:5-18
Matthew 28:16-20

"And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

I remember.  I remember hearing Billy Graham quote this verse, on a black and white TV, during one of his televised crusades many years ago when I was a child.  As Billy Graham always has done, he simply quoted from the Bible and asserted that the words were true -- to be taken and believed at face value.  That's what I did, and it was very comforting.

I felt the sense of Jesus' being with me here and now, at all times and in all all places; I felt confident of that presence until the end of the age.  In the anguished misunderstanding and loneliness that often accompanies the process of growing up, I needed those words.  I needed Jesus to be with me, to the end of the age.

At some point later in my growing up, I realized that the Bible was more complicated and mysterious than an answer book with words to be taken at face value.  Yes, the Bible was divine revelation, but it was also a human document, written by people not unlike me, who were reflecting on their experience of the divine. 

So now, again I read this verse that carries so much remembered richness for me.  For many years now I have experienced the presence of Jesus with me, with us, in all times and places.  Today I return to this passage with a second naivety.  I am again comforted by Jesus' presence, now and to the end of the age. 

The disciples experienced Jesus as a present presence and as an absent presence.  While he was with them in the flesh, he was their friend, teacher and companion here and now, a present presence.  They were with him here and knew where he was now.  He was in one place and not another.  He was in this time and not all times.

After the resurrection, the disciples experienced Jesus as an absent presence.  He was with them in the spirit.  He was their friend, teacher and companion still, and yet he was so much more.  Now he filled all things.  He was with them in all times and in all places.  There was no where that he was not.  They spoke of this transition as Jesus' Ascension. 

An important characteristic of the experience of Jesus as the absent present is the realization that because Jesus is everywhere, we need not seek him elsewhere.  Jesus is here.  If I do not recognize him here, it is pretty useless for me to go and search for him somewhere else, because it is not Jesus who is absent from me, it is I who am absent from him.  Oh, there are thin places and evocative holy times when it seems easier to recognize the divine present, but the deeper invitation is to discover Jesus in every situation and person, in every time and place. 

As we read the accounts of his life we are reminded that Jesus is present in all ordinariness.  We read the gospel stories and see him present with his disciples in our waking and working and sleeping, in our meals and conversations and travel, in our love and joy and wonder, in our arguments and frustrations and confusions.  The stories of his table reminds us of his particular presence in the Eucharist, and the story of his cross reminds us of his deepest presence in human suffering and evil.

But there is no place where Jesus is more than right here, right now, for he is risen and ascended and has filled all things with his presence.  Whenever I can remember that, I am re-membered.  His words literally ring true again.  "Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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