Over the weekend many of us have sought to honor and remember our mothers, as well as give thanks for the varied forms of mothering we are gifted to offer and receive. Treasured old pictures have surfaced, dusting off memories for us as we reflect on the presence or perhaps absence of this formative care.
My own mother, Bernice Coe Marshall, was born the same year the Titanic went down (1912), and she always wryly noted that coincidence. She grew up in a pastor’s household, that of her grandfather who served as a missionary in Indian Territory. Her own father, a professional baseball player, had abandoned her mother and the two children, and they lived with the stigma of an absent father and subsequent divorce.
Understandably, when she married she sought to provide stability to her family. She delighted in caring for her husband, Truman, and her three children, which arrived after agonizing years of waiting, were her great joy. I am grateful for her tireless efforts in our behalf, and my brothers and I share the graceful imprint of her love. Absent from us, yet present with the Lord, we remember her fondly.
We experience her presence as we tell the stories of her humor, her enduring identity as a “church lady,” and her embrace of her years as a widow. We feel her absence as new children are added to the clan and think of how she would welcome them. Presence and absence comprise the dialectic that frames life in relationship.
|Copley, John Singleton, 1738-1815. The Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.|
Soon we will celebrate Ascension in the liturgical year, reminding us of the ways in which Jesus can be both absent and present as Risen Lord. Luke offers two scenes of departure—at the conclusion of his Gospel and the beginning of Acts. Marking the cessation of his earthly appearances, this version of the post-resurrection interaction between Jesus and his disciples culminates with his being “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:31b). Acts puts it this ways: “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (1:9b).
|JESUS MAFA. The Ascension, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.|
Remaining with them as Holy Spirit, yet being physically withdrawn from their sight, Jesus continued to inhabit their gatherings and their imaginations. Their faith in him prompted their love for the saints and their proclamation of his resurrecting power. They also had the impression that this form of absence would not be permanent, for “this Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way . . .” (Acts 1:11b).
|Ascension of Christ, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.|
Remarkably, ascension does not mark the end of presence; rather, it shifts the mode of presence into the empowered community who would recognize him in the breaking of break, acting mercifully, and welcoming the stranger. As his visible body, the church embodies his continuing appearance.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.