Absence and Presence





Artist: Monica Ayers

- Jeff Gentry

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.

"No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."        - Mark 2:18-22

When discussing this passage on a deck over New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, our retreat leader told us that the point of this passage is that Jesus and his disciples will fast. Thus, we should fast. The point of the passage, the leader seemed to suggest, was the importance of this practice.

I recoiled from that teaching then and I am no great shakes at fasting now. Yet as I read and re-read this passage in Mark’s gospel, it seems to me that the point of the passage is not the practice of fasting at all, but rather arresting presence.

The crowds questioned the disciples’ indifference towards the Pharisees’ practice of twice-a-week fasts, and Jesus answered simply. His disciples did not fast because their lover was present, but when the lover was ripped away from them, then their wait would be marked by fasting.

The practice of fasting from meat, Facebook, or fine bourbon is pointless if that practice of absence does not fix our attention on the presence of our loving, long-expected Jesus. During this Lent, let our fasting from screens or coffee with cream serve as a way of weaving a new garment onto which the healing patch of salvation will one day be stitched. As we say ‘no’ for the first time on Ash Wednesday, we are unstopping the bottle that eagerly awaits the new wine of God’s indescribably effervescent presence.

And when we fast, we shall not bitch about our abnegations because we are confident that absence will be obliterated by presence and, though we are sick, the Great Physician will come.

So we wait, eagerly, for the One who will come with healing in His wings. 

This is an excerpt from our 2015 Lent & Easter Prayerbook. To download your free copy click here.

Jeff Gentry is a husband, father of two and a jaded optimist who lives in Beverly, MA. He is a former bi-vocational minister and dedicated Episcopal layman who assists people with disabilities as they pursue more independent, dignified lives.

Monica Ayers is a photographer who captures stories with light and lenses; she visually narrates weddings, growing families, anniversaries, and everyday joys. Monica lives in Philadelphia with her husband Jared and their three adventurous children.