Thursday, October 01, 2015

God present. God absent.

I'm chewing on Luke's account of Jesus' resurrection in Luke 24:13-27.

The presence of God in his absence
Jesus draws near to Cleopas and his friend as they walk home from Jerusalem after that Passover weekend. They've done this before, year after year, no doubt. But this time is different. They're going in the absence of Jesus - he might never have walked this road with them before but now they feel themselves without him. Derelict.

Reflecting on Jane Dorn's photography:
Emanating from Dorn’s photographs is a disquieting sense of impermanence as one beholds these derelict structures once erected as assurances of permanence... Dorn writes: "...through the camera, I see not what is present, but what is missing. I see evidence of absence through the presence of what remains."
They're despondent. Derelict from the absence of Jesus. Absence is grief.

They'd hoped in Jesus but now he's gone. The reader knows better than they do - Luke's reportage builds the suspense and gets us pleading for their eyes to be opened. But the only know his absence.

We feel absence strangely. The friend no longer there. The good old days. Once vibrant and now lifeless. Easy to wish never to have had than to have had and then lost, if the having hadn't been so sweet.

Cleopas, derelict.

God is largely absent from our society, but church steeples still lift our eyes to the heavens. Echoes of what was once here. We are still, slightly, "God-haunted." We still, as Barnes puts it, "miss God."

These friends of Jesus have long expected salvation. Everything in them wants to believe but all the evidence they've seen says their hopes are dashed. Was this not the time after all?

They had hoped but he is gone.
The women had gone to the tomb, but he is gone.
He has walked our streets but now we cannot see him.
All the dreams, all the late night conversation, all the footsteps along the road to Jerusalem.

In their encounter the only place they see Jesus is in the Scriptures (though it is he who is teaching them) as he shows how the suffering and resurrection and glory of the Christ were necessary - a boldly public claim in our age of private religion.

The victory of God in his defeat
And what did he show them? Not that the Bible is "basic instructions before leaving earth " more the Bible's message is the story of the renewal of God's world.

That far from "we had hoped he would redeem Israel but they crucified him" rather "he was crucified to redeem Israel." "Death and all of its friends" are disarmed. The enemy of all is overthrown by the self-giving glory of the risen Christ. Death got its grubby hands on the Son fill this world with the Father's glory.

Sad brightness and bright sadness, Cleopas.

And now He prepares them for his physical absence. From here on, until the final day, he will dwell with them in the word (and beyond this passage, by his Spirit).

Indwelling, present and absent.

And in the age of his having returned to his Father, and the outpouring of the Spirit - this is the time of the beginnings of the redemption of Israel and of the glory of the Messiah.

As Wright puts it "welcome to God's new world",
Welcome, as Tyson says, to "the renewal of all things."

Not less than Zechariah prophesied in chapter 1, not less than forgiveness proclaimed to all the peoples of the world in the Spirit's empowering (as at the end of chapter 24). Sunrise in our darkness. Warmth in the coldness.

A new week. A new world.

Welcome to the presence of God in his church, in his word, by his Spirit. Welcome to the absence of the king who is always present.

"In literature, much of the meaning of a text comes from what is left unsaid, what is outside the text but faintly present, what is alluded to and so forth."
And so in the ordinary. In the exile. In the days like those of Esther. God is conspicuous by his absence, more present than we know.

This is the story of resurrection. The impossible made possible. The reversal of expectations. A  seismic shift in the cosmos. The necessary events of God's unfolding story.

As Lewis says: "now at last they were at the begining, Chapter One of the Great Story" though they hardly know it.

Broken people will populate the streets of God's new world, people longing and yearning. waiting, expectant, despondent, derelict, bewildered as they were, later they would reflect: "did not our hearts burn within us..." though they didn't know it at the time.

Image: Chris Guy

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