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April 2005 

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Stories of disappearance



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Stories of disappearance
«Their eyes were opened and they recognized him…but he disappeared out of their sight» Luke, 24,31)

Two disciples were walking with a man who was comforting them and was explaining the Scriptures. Since it was late they invited him to stay with them at Emmaus. It was then that they recognized him but he had already disappeared. This story of apparition is more a story of disappearance. When we speak about the apparitions of Jesus after his resurrection, we should also speak of his disappearances. Jesus disappeared in death. His body disappeared from the tomb where he was laid down. The tomb was empty. When he showed himself after his death, he was not recognized at first. Sure it is he, but different.
Ascension Then came the great departure, the Ascension Day, when he disappeared definitely. These apparitions followed by disappearances seem to show that if Jesus is still there, it is in another way than his previous life. 
He did not wish to be held back «Don't touch me» he said to Mary of Magdalena at the moment when she recognized him in the form of the gardener. Recognizing him is also trying to hold him, to keep him after having thought to lose him. He is there but in a different way. He asked to be touched when there was a doubt that it was he, Jesus, like for Thomas. But now for us, how can we believe in him without seeing or touching? Yet, it is those who believe without seeing which were declared blessed. To believe means really to go beyond the evidence of our senses to reach another knowledge.

Jesus used many parables in which a master is away travelling and leaving his property in the hands of his servants. He gives them the freedom to decide for what is necessary. The master is absent but at the same time he is there. It is his property and when he returns they will answer to him. In leaving his friends on Ascension Day, Jesus gave them the responsibility of his message and freedom to announce it in their own way. When he was leaving, he said only « Now I will always be with you till the end» (End of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, 28, 20). Perhaps is he really there only when he departs? He does not interfere any more with the responsibility and the freedom of every one of us.

For children becoming adult, they have to grow away from their parents. The parents have to step aside, always present and loving, but allowing their children to develop their autonomy. By taking some distance from their parents the children can attach to others. 


A too obvious presence of Jesus could re-enforce the attachment to his person instead to the attention to other persons. He did underline that the way to love him was to take care of the others: a smile, a visit, a better life….

What is this kind of absence in the form of a presence? Probably this was what the first witnesses strongly experienced after the death of Jesus. They have named this experience «resurrection» and they described it under stories of apparition and disappearance.

Maybe it is what we experience ourselves, some time in a flash, in a milder way, in moments of plenitude of life, when we are loved and overcome by a sudden impulse, enlightened in a new way and fulfilled with confidence. In such moments even death does not make us afraid.