The Absent Presence

‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.  (John 14:18-19, 25-27)

I hear it all the time: it is a terrible and painful sacrifice not to be able to worship together in our own church sanctuaries. Online worship, while very meaningful and good, is just not the same as being together in person. Our faithful Wisconsin United Methodists are truly learning the value of their communities of faith!

In a perfect world, there would be no disruption to our rituals and routines of public worship; we could be together as often as we please. But the reason we gather together for worship is because we DO NOT live in a perfect world. We live in a broken world, a world fraught with dangers, disease, violence, injustice, and deep hurt. We come together to proclaim faith in the One who has the power to heal, to bring peace, to create harmony, and to champion justice. We worship a risen Savior – one who is present with us in Spirit while being absent from us physically.

And herein is the good news: we are never truly apart. Social distancing is not spiritual distancing. Caring more for the health and well-being of the physical body of Christ – our community of faith – is true and pure discipleship. Putting the needs of the whole people of God ahead of our own personal desires is to personify the Christian gospel. Masking is mission and ministry, as we declare a public witness that we care for others in body, mind, and spirit. Being apart is as important a testimony to our faith as being together!

The day will come when we can stand side by side, safely and securely, lifting our voices unmuffled by masks in praise and thanksgiving – and what a truly joyous time that will be. But what will make it even more celebratory and wonderful is that we will ALL be there together because we made the sacrifices today that laid the foundation for a safe, strong, and healthy future.

The person of Jesus is absent from us, but the Holy Spirit is with us, within us, and is linking us in holy and sacred communion. We are together apart, and nothing on earth can change that. Our God is greater than the things that physically separate us, and by God’s grace and Spirit, we are witnesses to the healing love God offers through God’s people. Thanks be to God!


Hee-Soo Jung

Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).