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Blessing and withdrawal

Luke 24:44-53

For more commentary on this week's readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Schmeling's current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and blog content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

From Easter morning until Ascension Thursday, Jesus is present and absent, enfleshed and distant, there and not there. He breaks bread and disappears. He shows up like a ghost, and then eats fish like everyone else. At the end of the story he blesses them, and then he withdraws.

It’s striking that the disciples’ response, rather than to be confused or bothered by this yes and no of resurrection, is to head back to Jerusalem and worship with great joy. I think I would have wanted more: more time with Jesus, more assurance that all of those sayings that now seemed hard to remember and a little unrealistic were what he meant to say, more assurance that resurrection was the final word, more encouragement to take up the mission, more peace, more presence, more, more, more.

I guess I’m the true American consumer, a bottomless pit of desire. I’m formed to want more and more. I assume that being so fully in the presence of Jesus would make me want more and more Jesus, as if I’m a spiritual addict who desperately needs more grace to survive.

Yet the disciples, after each partial and mysterious revelation, respond with worship and joy. How is it that these moments of blessing, and then loss, are enough?

Maybe that’s part of the message of these strange Ascension stories. It’s the withdrawal of Jesus that makes us enter life with joy and worship. We cannot experience the fullness of incarnation while Jesus is present like he was in history. We need his blessing, and we need him to withdraw, so that we can discover that what we have is worthy of joy and worship.

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Comments

"present and absent"

May I comment to your excellent meditation with a few words from Ellen F. Davis, Getting Involved with God, p. 80. ( She is distinguished professor, Bible and practical theology, Duke Divinity.) This I think is hard to say but both of you have said it well.
Dr. Davis writes: "In either case, the Song (of Songs) ends with the lovers not nestled together, but unsettled, ever in motion -- like Keats's lovers on the Grecian urn, their love ' Forever warm and still to be enjoyed.' " Then she asks, "Is it not also a true reflection of the best we can expect, as long as we are in the world, of our life with God?"

The presence and absence of God

What is this world but the absence of God, his withdrawal, his distance (which we call space), his waiting (which we call time), his footprints (which we call beauty)? God could only create the world by withdrawing from it (otherwise there would be nothing but God), or by remaining in the form of absence, hiddenness, withdrawal, as a footprint is left behind in the sand at ebb tide by a traveler who has disappeared; it is at once the sole evidence of his existence and of his disappearance.
--- Simone Weil

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus . . .
Jesus himself came up and walked along with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
---Luke 24:13-17

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