The Promise of Presence

 

4“But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”  

Since my father passed away some years ago, I’ve had a fascination with the last words and days of a person’s life.

My father struggled with lung cancer–breathing was a chore. Every breath he took was measured, had meaning, and was intentional.

His final words to each of my siblings were very thoughtful. On his last day, I was next to him on his bed. He motioned me to move closer to him so that I could better hear him. He said, in almost a whisper, “Promise me one thing.”

“Sure dad, anything,” I said. And I waited for some important, life-changing words to come from his mouth.

He drew a long breath, as deep as he could.

Then he said, “Please promise me that you are going to take better care of your car from now on. I’m not going to be here to do that for you anymore.”

I thought to myself, “Really? That’s it?” So, for lack of better response, I said, “Ok Dad. I promise.”

I’ve thought about that conversation thousands of times since. His last words to me mattered a great deal to him.

Here we are, nearly 6 weeks past Easter. The gospel lectionary passage will not let us forget the days before Jesus’ death…and the words…the last words he spoke to his disciples. Jesus is measured and intentional with what he wants them to know and remember…and here it is…

“The Spirit will be with you and is in you.”

In other words, you will not be alone in this world.

This promise of solidarity seems to be the tone of Jesus’ last conversations with his disciples.

That’s quite a promise, Jesus… we will never be alone. You will be with us? How does that actually play out anyway?

How does the Spirit work and move in our personal lives? How about in the lives of people and communities where everything would suggest exactly the opposite? Sometimes it feels like God is not present, or at the very least, very hard to find.

Here’s what I continue to discover. The Spirit needs a Body. The Spirit of God needs to be embodied–in a person, in a people.

God’s presence, Jesus’ promise to be with us, is embodied now through the very imperfect, very conflicted, very frail Body of those who are called CHURCH. He is with us and in us. Ironically, it’s the presence of God at work in the church that frees us to see God’s presence outside the church as well: especially in the marginalized, outcast, and forgotten corners of the world.

There is plenty in the Gospels that suggests this “presence” within God’s people will be messy. The Incarnation was anything but neat and tidy. It was unpredictable. It crossed boundaries. It created tension. It was counter-cultural. It was scandalous.

It was beautiful.

The deeper we move into our communities’ stories, the further we move away from the things that give us privilege and control. The further we go, the more awkwardly beautiful the whole notion of presence becomes. I don’t understand how that works. But, it seems to be the way God prefers to be in the world. He became fully present to us only when he died. That’s a mystery I’m not sure words will ever explain.

But, we know it when it happens through us and we know when it happens to us. Perhaps the best we can do is quietly and humbly acknowledge that God is keeping His promises.
 
 
Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalms