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Dr. Jeannine Hanger, an assistant professor at the Talbot School of Theology, discussed the importance of meditating on the feelings of absence that the disciples experienced after the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus Christ when Christians are feeling alone. She highlighted the struggle of adjusting to life without loved ones, drawing parallels to the disciples adjusting to life without Jesus. Hanger emphasized the significance of Jesus’ farewell discourse in John’s Gospel, where he prepares his friends for his impending absence by assuring them that he will always be with them in spirit.

Hanger compared the disciples’ adjustment to life without Jesus to her experience of her daughter leaving for university and using FaceTime to stay in touch. She acknowledged the comfort of being able to see her daughter’s face on a screen, but noted that it was not the same as being together in person. Hanger emphasized the mixed message Jesus delivered to his disciples, saying, “I am leaving you” followed by “I will be with you.” She explained that Jesus’ words of life serve as a reminder that believers are never truly alone, even in the absence of loved ones.

The concept of Jesus’ abiding spirit and nearness, despite his physical absence, may be difficult to grasp for some. Hanger shared a metaphor from Jesus’ farewell address, where he describes himself as the true vine, his Father as the gardener, and the disciples as branches. This metaphor illustrates the stable connection between Jesus and his followers, emphasizing the importance of remaining connected to him. Hanger emphasized that this connection does not require effort or striving, but is a natural aspect of the believing life.

As believers navigate feelings of absence and long for the physical presence of loved ones, Hanger encouraged drawing encouragement from the garden scene in Jesus’ discourse. She highlighted the importance of recognizing the abiding spirit of Jesus and finding solace in knowing that believers are never truly alone. In the Lenten season, Hanger urged Christians to reflect on the metaphor of the vine and branches, emphasizing the stability and connection that comes from remaining connected to Jesus. By meditating on Jesus’ words of life, believers can find comfort and assurance during times of loneliness and separation.

In conclusion, Hanger emphasized the importance of meditating on Jesus’ words and the concept of his abiding presence, even in times of physical absence. She encouraged believers to find solace in the metaphor of the vine and branches, understanding the stable connection that comes from remaining connected to Jesus. Despite feelings of loneliness or longing for physical presence, Hanger reminded readers that Jesus’ spirit is always near and offers reassurance that believers are never truly alone. As Christians navigate life’s challenges and adjustments, they can draw strength from the message of hope and connection found in Jesus’ farewell discourse.

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