Attendance is taken at the beginning of the school day and it is part of the agenda at formal business and government meetings.
Someone has the responsibility to call out the names of those who should be at the class or meeting. When individuals hear their names, they reply, “Present” or “Here” to indicate they are in the room.
Those who fail to respond when their names are called are marked absent.
If attendance had been taken at the start of the Last Supper, it would have indicated 13 people were in the Upper Room, namely, Jesus and the 12 Apostles. As Matthew tells us, “When it was evening, he (Jesus) reclined at table with the Twelve.” (Matthew 26:20)
If attendance had been taken on Holy Saturday, there would certainly have been one person marked “absent.” Jesus was no longer with his disciples. He was dead and his body was in the tomb.
But if the roll had been called on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, Jesus would have answered, “Present!” Or he might have indicated he was there in a more formal way. As Saint John tells us, “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)
Jesus was no longer absent, he was risen! He was with them.
According to Saint Luke, the Risen Lord then remained with the disciples for several weeks. As we are told in this Sunday’s First Reading (Acts 1:1-11), “He presented himself alive to them….appearing to them during forty days….and speaking about the kingdom of God.”
Then after his final instruction, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”
After the Ascension, the Risen Lord was no longer with them. As the angels told his disciples, “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
The Ascension of Jesus seemed to mark the day when Jesus left his disciples.
However, it would be a mistake to mark Jesus “absent.” The last thing he told his disciples was “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus promised to remain with his disciples. That is a promise that he has kept and continues to keep to this very day.
Jesus is with us when the Church gathers in prayer, as he told us, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
Jesus is present as his Gospel is proclaimed. After we listen to the reading, we declare, “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” We praise the one who has just spoken to us.
Jesus is present in the consecrated bread and wine that we receive in holy communion. They are not reminders of the Lord who was with his Apostles 2,000 years ago. Rather they are the Body and Blood of Christ who is truly with us. As Catholics, we believe in the “real presence.”
Jesus is present in the celebration of all the sacraments. It is Christ who acts through his priests to bless us with his grace, mercy, and love.
The Ascension is not about the Risen Lord leaving us, but rather about the Risen Lord remaining with us in a new and wonderful way. A way that allows him to be with us at every moment and in every place.
If the roll were taken whenever Christians came together, Jesus would certainly shout “Present!” when his name was called.
© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski