Being in the presence of another person is a powerful experience. If we are in the presence of someone we love it is wonderful and nourishing. Being in the presence of somebody whom we find rude or unpleasant is difficult and awkward. While we are in the presence of others almost daily, we also live with a lot of absence. The absence of someone we have loved who has died. The absence of our children when they go off to school or our spouse who leaves for work. The absence of a friend who moves far away either emotionally or physically.
The Ascension of the Lord can show us how to live with absence. Imagine how powerful the presence of Jesus was to his disciples who were literally in his presence day after day. Then came the day for him to ascend to heaven. This had to have been a very sad day for them at first. In the Scripture account it is almost as if they cannot believe he is no longer physically present. After he ascended, they were apparently dumbstruck and just staring into the sky (Acts 1:1-11). They could not apprehend how they were going to live with his physical absence.
The disciples learned from the presence of Jesus. They also learned from his absence and so can we. They learned how much they needed him as now, instead of leaving it all up to him or just acting on their own, they did works in his name. In the absences of our lives, it is Jesus’ name that we, too, rely on to get us through. They learned how much they needed each other which is why Jesus made us his Church. We do not walk the way of faith alone. In life’s absences, we are to be ever more present to each other in our support and care. The disciples also learned how much Jesus trusted them to be his presence in his physical absence, entrusting them with preaching his message to the ends of the earth (Mark 16:15-20). In the same way, Jesus relies on us to be his presence, to be instruments of hope for each other and the world especially when there is an absence of peace and goodwill.
Presence is powerful. As disciples of Jesus, absence can be even more powerful as it calls us to rely on God and each other as people of hope. Absence is a reminder of just how precious our presence in the world is.