Not long ago, I sat in my New Testament Greek class listening to my teacher discuss parousia. In a few concise, but loaded words, parousia, the Greek version of the Latin advent, means “coming,” “arrival” and also “presence.” How strange that this word can simultaneously refer to something that has happened, is yet to happen and now is. Jesus is, has come. Jesus is coming. Jesus is always here.
This thought also led me to another thought … that of babies. I have had three of them. As each baby grew inside, I could feel its flutters and turnings under a hand on my belly, the shallow depth of stretched muscle, membrane and skin. There was a thin veil of separation between us, a bit of human flesh. But a baby was on its way. This child I’d never met was right there within me and not yet arrived.
Every parent knows the thrill of first seeing a long awaited child. It is pure amazement, even if the baby bears striking resemblance to mother or father. There is familiarity, but in a previously unknown and unique package … a fresh and unexpected revelation. In the months and years to come, we see more of this one who is always present to us, but whose depth and complexity grows ever more richly apparent.
Recently, I heard a priest talking about a part of the Mass (epiclesis) where he invokes Christ’s presence upon the Communion elements and bells ring to signify the moment. He said that when he was a little boy sitting in the pew, his mother would tell him, “When you hear the bells, Jesus is coming.” A day or two after I heard this, it dawned on me that epiclesis is a two-part Greek word. Epi, means “upon” or “on’. It indicates personal touching. Clesis is from ka-lei-o meaning “to call.” During the epiclesis, the priest calls for the real presence of Christ to come upon the bread and the wine … to touch it. The epiclesis happens in every Mass a million places around the world. It has been happening over and over for 2,000 years. Christ has come to us, but he is always still coming.
Like a baby whose arrival we await, Christ is in our midst and yet always about to arrive. “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror …” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The veil of our human flesh prevents us from discerning the full revelation of him. And in his kindness, his own human flesh has veiled us from the burning brightness of His Majesty. Yet, as we call upon him in prayer, receive him in Communion, encounter him in Scripture, live in his Body, the Church, and are enlivened by the breath of his Spirit, we know him more … little by little. Christ is always coming to us until the day of his final coming when we will know him fully.
by Lisa D