By Fr. Joseph Francis —
Parousia or visible presence of the Lord at the end of time
One of the strongest beliefs of the Primitive Church was that Jesus is to come soon. The thinking originally seems to have been, that there are still a number of things that the prophets like the third Isaiah had said would be a part of the Messianic times, but it had not yet happened. So Jesus would be coming to complete this unfinished business. This expectation was feverishly high in the primitive Church.
In their prayer services they prayed: come Lord Jesus, Marana Tha (I Cor 16.22b). The technical term that the theologians use is “Parousia” derived from the Greek word “pareimi” which means presence. Confer the following texts to understand the implications: Heb 9.28 “will appear a second time”; I Tim 6.14 “until the manifestation of Our Lord Jesus Christ”; II Thess 1.7 “When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven”. All these texts need not be understood in a sense other than a manifestation of one who continues to be present here and now.
Is Jesus coming back?
We could speak of a coming back if there was a leaving. Has the Risen Lord left us, abandoned us? Some may point out to the ascension narratives (see ch. XVI above). If he were gone away then what would be the meaning of his promise and assurance: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 28.20)? We would not also understand correctly the commission to evangelize the world. Nor could there be meaning in the real presence of the Eucharist!
Therefore the correct way of presenting Parousia seems to be “presence”, a progressive presence or a type of visibility of the Risen Lord in the lives of the people, in society. Evangelization acquires the fresh meaning of making the Risen Lord, who is with us even NOW in a hidden manner, ever more present in some visible, tangible form or another. Let us not forget that the Gospel is the leaven in the mass, the light of the world.
The visible presence of the Lord in its final stage
Parousia in its final stage is the full manifestation or epiphania of the Risen Lord. Here you notice that all the Sacraments as well as all our fields of apostolate are geared to bring about this presence, this Parousia of the Risen Lord. It is good to remind ourselves that whatever be our task be it in school, hospital, office, workshop, press, garden or kitchen have a tremendous value and import. The Risen Lord becomes manifest, present, visible and tangible by your work. He has arrived and ever more arrives as you continue to work in his name i.e., according to Christian principles of daily life.
Hence, we should rather speak of the progressive manifestation of the Risen Lord, the growing light which would one day burst forth in its dazzling brilliance on the last day. Saying this, we do not deny in the least the sudden intervention of God, the Kairos (the momentous time) of the Lord’s full manifestation. All that we say is the process is on and the final will be a fantastic display like the fire-works display wherein the last one will be the climax of the show. In other words, it would be Chronos (steadily progressing time) the Lord becoming steadily manifest ending in a great Kairos (the momentous time) glorious, fantastic appearance at the end! [Some may not have understood this distinction of 2 Greek words Chronos and Kairos. Both the words are translated in English by the single word “time” but in Greek there is a subtle difference in meaning. Chronos refers to a steady progress of time calculated by the chronometer or a time-piece whereas Kairos refers to momentous time or significant time in history or one’s life. With this explanation read once again what was written above].
Parousia as vindication of the Lord
There is also a note that needs to be kept in our perspective. The Parousia is the vindication of the Lord. It is a day when the whole world, all mankind will acknowledge that indeed Jesus is the Lord, indeed he is the one who came from the Father for our salvation. It is the ultimate victory of the Lord.
Is Parousia a distant reality?
For the modern Christian, Parousia appears as a distant reality, something that does not affect his daily life. But for the early Christians it was an intensely felt longing. Many of their actions were coloured with this vivid expectation. The following examples would make this clear: Acts 4.32 ff. speaks of these first converts selling off their property and laying the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles; wondering about the fate of those who have died before Parousia, I Thess 4.13-18 portray the anxieties of an early community regarding their dead at the time of Parousia. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope… For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. ..the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words”.
They were also anxious about their own preparations for this Parousia of the Lord I Thess 5.1-8 “Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters… the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night… But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober…” Confer also I Cor 7.1 ff. where some among the first communities wonder whether their giving up of sexual relationships so that they could be better prepared for the Parousia, was a good decision after all.
St. Paul counsels them in a very balanced manner. But as the decades passed and nothing happened to show that Parousia was near, the eagerly expected Parousia appeared to be postponed. The intensity of the longing in the Christian communities also diminished e.g., II Pet 3.3-13 “First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” …But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home”.
Yet if Parousia were perceived by the early Church as so crucial, it should have its meaning for us today. For us the meaning remains unabated when we consider that at least for the individual the Parousia is at his death. This could occur at any time, indeed the time is very close at hand when the individual will meet the Lord face to face since the Lord will be manifested to him.