(…continued) It must have been wonderful to be with Jesus when he was here in person. From his own voice the disciples received comfort and guidance. With their own eyes, the disciples saw Jesus work his miracles of healing.
Think about what it would be like if Jesus made the rounds in your neighborhood as he did in Galilee. Imagine Jesus going up to a woman in a wheelchair at the grocery store and telling her to get up and walk, and and then seeing her get up. Imagine Jesus going to the hospital and clearing out the cancer ward, sending everyone home cured, healthy, and strong. Picture Jesus coming to a funeral at your church, like he did in the village of Nain, raising the deceased man up out of the casket and restoring him to his family, alive and well. Jesus might even stop at the cemetery and raise from the dead someone already buried, like when he raised Lazarus. I believe that if Jesus was here doing all of that right now, a lot of people would pay more attention to him. And I believe that if Jesus was going to be at your church, in person, this Sunday morning, every single member would be there, and not just the 25-30% of the members which is the average attendance in most churches these days.
But Jesus isn’t doing any of those miracles now in person, and he’s not making any personal appearances. Jesus did do all those miracles, and it is all in the Bible for us to read about and respond to his invitation to believe it and be saved. But Jesus is not here now. He is absent. And absence often results in unbelief and disobedience and failure. When the Master leaves, there is a test, and we often fail that test. Some folks will even forget all about the Master and ignore him completely. Just like in the parables of Jesus, they will act as if the Master is never coming back. But Christ is coming again. He said so himself, and the whole New Testament proclaims it. Jesus said over and over again, “Watch and be ready.”
Think for a moment about how you respond when you hear the words, ‘Christ is coming again?’ How does that make you feel? Is that second coming of Jesus something you look forward to in hope, or, is it something that you find frightening? What if you learned that Christ was returning to end this world on the day after tomorrow? Would you hear that as good news or bad news? Would you look forward to what Jesus has to say to you? Would you expect to be greeted as an old familiar friend, someone you had just been talking to that morning? Or would you worry that he might want to ask you where you’ve been and why he hasn’t heard much from you? ‘Watch and be ready!,’ Jesus often said. Do not be caught not paying attention. Do not be caught living as though there is no Master. Do not forget about your Master, your Lord, and your Creator. Do not be caught ignoring Jesus. You will be someday meet him. If Jesus does not come to end the world in your lifetime, you will meet him when the world ends for you in your death.
My brother and I enjoyed our freedom that week that our parents were on vacation. But as their return date drew closer, I found myself dreading the time we would have to face Dad and tell him that we did not do anything. I did not look forward to seeing him because it wasn’t all ‘busy work’ that he gave us to do. Much of it had to be done, and now it would have to be done by him alone since school was starting. We started feeling bad those last few days before they returned, but still not bad enough to do anything about it. We were having fun and so we just kept goofing around right up until their return. When they came back, we welcomed them home and asked about their trip. Then Dad asked how the work went, and we had to admit that we had done nothing. Dad’s deep disappointment in his two capable, but irresponsible sons made us ashamed of ourselves. So ashamed, in fact, that it never happened again. There were other chances, other vacations, other times when we were home alone, and other job lists. Never again did we want to see that look of disappointment and feel that shame, and we never had to. From then on we would always get the work done. And then we did not have to dread, but instead could look forward to our parent’s return; because then, with pride, we could show them that we had done even more than what was expected.
Absence of authority is a test. The good servant, the good student, and the good son can be trusted to do the right thing even when the boss is absent. In John chapter 20, not long before Jesus left the disciples, Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me you have believed; Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Can we be trusted to keep the faith, to live as Jesus wants us to live, to hear his word and speak to him in prayer, even while he is gone and we cannot see him? If so, we can indeed look forward to his return, even if it would be the day after tomorrow.
Near the end of his life, Paul wrote to Timothy, “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul did not dread the prospect of facing his Lord. Rather, it says, he ‘longed for his appearing.’ We also can look forward to, even ‘long for’ that appearing. (continued…)
(Some material in this and the previous meditation is from William Willimon, Preaching to Strangers, pp. 101-111; Willimon there gives credit to Bernard B. Scott, Hear Then the Parable, pp. 205-216)
II Timothy 4:7-8 — I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
John 20:29 — Then Jesus told (Thomas), “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Mark 13:36-37 — (Jesus said), “If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer