The Easter event has fuzzied the notion of presence. From the first encounter with the risen Jesus, people had trouble discerning precisely Who He was. They somewhat identified Him, but there was a difference.
This Easter trait carries over into the scriptural accounts today, starting with Jesus’ words at the Last Supper about His visibility to His disciples. "A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me." This literally happened during the days surrounding Easter. Today’s gospel goes on, in Jesus’ words, to acknowledge that His followers will weep and mourn, but then counters by remarking that this grief will become joy. Such exactly was the experience of the first seer at the tomb, Mary Magdalene. Weeping, she was unable to discern the presence of the Person before her, but this soon turned into joy.
Paul rather vividly illustrates this "now you see me, now you don’t" experience, in today’s account from Acts. Just arrived in Corinth from Athens, he continues his intense pace in preaching the gospel, moving about within Corinth itself, from association with Aquila and Priscilla, to teaming up with Silas, to housing with Titus Justus, to evangelizing Crispus. Totally unlike his former Jewish compatriots, for whom spreading their faith by such missionary endeavors was virtually unknown, Paul engages anyone and everyone, regardless of race, with his message about Jesus as the Messiah. He extends Jesus’ remark above about no longer being seen by leaving his Jewish setting, when he finally grasps how they oppose and revile him. "He shook out his garments" and departed from them, allying with the gentiles. Paul has an Easter sense of absence and presence. Like the risen Jesus, he bestows it on willing listeners, but withholds it from those who close their ears to his message.
Easter prompts us to review our sense of Jesus’ presence, in word, sacrament, community and the poor. Life tends to be fuzzy. Easter challenges us to improve our focus on the risen Christ before us.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, CP, [email protected], is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.