The post-resurrection Jesus had astonishing properties – he could appear in locked rooms and disappear at will. Perhaps it wasn’t so much “appear” and “disappear” as “materialize” and “dematerialize.” After all, the risen Jesus was spirit – not a ghost, he points out, but spirit. He seemed to be able to take on substance, or matter, when he needed to be seen. (Perhaps he had those properties before resurrection as well… His little stroll upon the Sea of Galilee and transfiguration on the mountain offer a tantalizing hint into the physics of Jesus’ incarnation…).
Jesus pulls this disappearing act in several resurrection appearances, the Gospels tell us. He says to Mary in the garden, “Don’t hold onto me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” (John 20:11-18) He did hang out and have breakfast with the disciples on the beach after the miraculous catch of fish (John 21), but his interview with Peter implies his coming absence. In Luke’s account of the upper room appearance, he talks about sending the Spirit to them (Luke 24:36-49). It is clear he’s not sticking around.
Jesus was not back to stay. His post-Resurrection, pre-Ascension walkabout had a purpose, to reinforce the teaching he’d given his followers for three years, and to prepare them to receive the Holy Spirit, who would kick the whole operation into gear. And here we are, more or less still in gear, two thousand-plus years later.
We tend to want to keep what feels good, to rest in it. And that is not God’s gift to us. Jesus always seems to be moving on to the next place we will find him. Maybe our wiring is too weak to withstand the frequency of God’s presence all the time. I know I have trouble abiding with Jesus for even a little while, though there is something about that presence that I crave. Maybe Jesus’ appearances, whether in those 40 days, or in our prayers and worship and ministry and community now, are always brief and for a purpose. Maybe he leads us on to new ways to experience him and new ways to make him known to the world, because there are so many who do not know him and need a multiplicity of on-ramps.
Where did you last experience the presence of Christ? How long did that experience last? Did you feel ready for it to end? If you would you like to experience the presence of Christ, and aren’t aware of having done so, here’s a prayer for today: “Risen Lord – I want to know you, to feel your presence, your love. Open my eyes, ears, heart and hands, and find me where I am today. Amen.”
I don’t know what will come of that prayer, but you can pray and release it. God will answer in God’s time and in a way that works for you. I don’t believe God hides from us.
I don’t think anyone, even the most prayer-soaked mystic, experiences God’s presence in a constant, unbroken way. Jesus did make a promise, though, that we can rest in, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the ages.” At the end of the ages, we’ll be able to sit in his presence full time.
For now, we take the moments and string them together like pearls of great price.