The Mystery of His Appearing
I met a man from Syria who only a short time before had come to faith in Jesus Christ. In the brief time I had with him, he shared how he first encountered the Saviour.
But let me first ask: `Have you ever noticed that in most if not all of the Bible’s accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, the Risen Lord, that his disciples failed to recognize Him?! They had spent hours, days, months with Him – sharing fully in His life, as companions and followers along the roads of Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and into Jerusalem. But they didn’t recognize Him as He appeared before them.
I think you could argue that He ‘came and went’ time again to the disciples (as St. Paul puts it - appearing to as many as 500 at one time, on occasion). The same Paul comments that ‘from now on, we do not know Him ‘according to the flesh.’ Somehow, Jesus’ new, resurrected Body remains the same and yet is somehow different. For Him, the seed has already flowered; He is in a resurrection, spiritual body – though one still corporeal (and we too shall one day be ‘like Him’ having bodies like `His glorious Body”).
Jesus appeared and disappeared in those days between his Resurrection and Ascension – seemingly moving through doors and walls without limitation – no doubt moving through and beyond various dimensions of space/time of the created order - and beyond and into whatever the ‘eternal’ means . . .
There follows the Ascension experience of Christ, before His disciples, as they see Him disappear into the clouds and into the eternal (which may very likely be not all that far away – just of another dimension and order of things). He had disappeared several times from their sight, but this time He would disappear for the most part or more fully from their natural and physical embrace and encounter, at least as they had previously been privileged to experience Him. But His presence was nonetheless real, now to be possible through a new communication of ‘spirit’ – to be theirs with and through His (Holy Spirit).
Paul Himself had a vision – a kind of appearing, of Jesus to him, on the Damascus Road (Damascus being then as now in Syria). I wonder if or how many others had a similar experience of which the Bible does not speak and of which we do not know. We do know that the early church at worship, in the height of both knowledge and passion, and in the liturgical expressions – some ancient and some new to Judaism and to this new ‘sect’ – looked forward to corporately ‘discerning the body’ in the tangible elements and expressions – the symbols of reality in the taking and eating and drinking of the Bread and of the Cup (of Communion), as Jesus had commanded them. And in that context they would cry – ‘Maranatha’ (Aramaic for: ‘Come Lord (Jesus)). They had a deep sense of His reality and of His Presence as they gathered and welcomed and worshiped. It was by faith they embraced Him, but it was a real encounter, nonetheless.
But again, I wonder if sometimes Jesus actually showed Himself to such as them at worship, as a vision of manifest and even corporal presence.
Back to my Syrian friend. As a former Islamic fundamentalist and an ex El Quaeda operative, his life would be forfeit now if he should return to his homeland – in danger of being killed by members of his own family and certainly by the hands of his former associates. He came to faith, he told me, because without thinking or solicitation or any other intermediary of which he was aware, Jesus had appeared to him. He was certain that it was Jesus and the encounter started him on a journey that led to Christian companionship, an introduction to the Scriptures and to a clear embrace and statement of faith, as he became a follower of this Jesus.
I wonder how many other times in our lives Jesus is near – to be apprehended by faith, or by sheer sight (though this is rare and not to be expected or sought). Other friends in that context have indicated to me that though the man’s vision was wonderful, it is also perhaps a rebuke to them and to all Christians that where we fail to do our task of showing and telling the Good News to others, Jesus does it for us, in spite of us, around us. Indeed, beyond arguing Islamic people into Christian understanding and faith, it may well be that such ‘signs and wonders’ will be used by the Lord, especially in areas we dare not go or even where we have friends and neighbours that we fail to reach.