In the Name of the Farther, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
Week after week after the feast of the Resurrection of Christ we keep the memory of those who were eyewitnesses of His life, of His death and of his rising again with deep gratitude, a gratitude which we do not always appreciate enough. Without these witnesses, without their proclamation what their eyes had seen, their ears had heard, their hands had touched we would not be able to proclaim in our turn with certainty, with joy the central message of our Christian faith that Christ is risen, that death, an ultimate separation from God and from one another, has no power anymore upon us, that Him Who was the God Eternal become Man through the Incarnation has saved us.
And every time that this proclamation reaches us a question creeps in in the minds of many: What was this body of the Resurrection? We can easily think of the incarnate body, of Christ in the days of the flesh. Or rather, we imagine, we understand the mystery of this body but we cannot easily picture the body of the Resurrection. And yet, let me dwell one moment upon the body of the Incarnation. To the eyes and the hands and the sensorial perception of all those who surrounded Him the incarnate Son of God was a man like all men – a man of flesh and of blood, and as He says himself to his disciples on the evening of His resurrection “I am no ghost. A ghost has no bones and flesh as you can see that I have.” And yet, a very body of the Incarnation was already profoundly different from ours. It was filled with the divine presence as perfectly as the soul of Christ was united to God. St. Maxim the Confessor says that in the Incarnation the very body of Christ was immortal because it is not possible, not thinkable that united to the divinity He could be corruptible, He could die. Immortality was already within it totally possessed and if Christ dies upon the Cross it is not because He is mortal like us but because He has accepted in an act of will, of freedom and of love to be partaker of all that is the human tragedy, not only its minor expressions like hunger, and thirst, and tiredness, and the limitations of human life but the ultimate tragedy of death following the loss of God which He had chosen to share with us and which He expressed in the tragic words of the Gospel, “My God, My God, why hast Thou abandoned Me?”
In the Incarnation the divinity and the humanity both in soul and in body where at one in Christ. To use an image of the same Maxim the Confessor whom I have quoted a moment ago, as fire and iron blend together if we put a sword into a furnace – the cold iron lacking of shine suddenly is pervaded with the heat of the furnace so that both fire and iron become one while however they do not lose any of their identity. And yet, says Maxim, one can cut with fire and burn with iron.
So that the body of the Incarnation – cause for the deep thought and must be, should be to us a revelation of something which is our own vocation, the divine presence reaching us in the spirit, flowing to our soul, pervading all that is of us including of our flesh, making us partakers of divine life and in the words of St. Peter, of the divine nature. But the body of the Resurrection is different. We see from the Gospel that Christ enters the room where the Apostles gathered, all doors shut, He appears and disappears to them. Can we have the slightest notion of the way in which this body relates to humanity? Two things could perhaps disclose to us, oh very little, a mystery which will not only contemplate but which will be within our glorious wonderful experience at the end of time.
Commenting on the story of the Fall at the beginning of Genesis St Gregory of Nyssa says that when man fell away from God, became more completely part and parcel of the material created world, was drowned in materiality – the words which the Scripture uses is – that God made them clothing of skin. But according to St Gregory of Nyssa it is not clothes He give them but He clothed them their opacity, their heaviness and man became what we are: heavy, opaque, compact, with a body which instead of being the support of a living soul, the instrument of eternal life has become a burden and a heavy weight, lacking the transparency that would allow us to see God, to see the world created by Him as He sees it – sparkling with beauty and grace. The body which we know is this heavy, compact, opaque body of the Fall not the body with which man was endowed when God called and loved him into existence to know Him as he is known by Him, to be His companion of eternity, to be His like. And in Christ we see the revelation of what this body, the body of creation could have become without the Fall. It is no longer the body of the primeval man, innocent and yet devoid of holiness, not yet partaker of the divine nature, not yet the like of God although he was made in image of God. But this very body made into the likeness, filled with the energies of divine life, at one with God revealing to us what we are called to be when the time is ripe.
And the image which St Paul gives of it can perhaps lead us into some understanding. He says that the body which will be ours in eternity is like the blade of the tree that grows out of a seed. In the seed there are all the potentialities, all the future of the blade and of the ear of wheat or of the great oak, and yet we can not discern them. And this seed is sown unto corruption to die in the earth in order to rise in glory – a life flowering, bearing fruit, being beauty and glory. This is what we are to expect for us and that is what we see revealed in the Resurrection of Christ – sown into corruption, rising into uncorruption, sown into death, rising into immortality, sown in dishonor, rising in glory. Let us therefore contemplate not only with amazement, not only with the sense of worship but with the joy of expectation, with hope that Christ risen in the body, Who reveals to us our humanity as we are called to become when He comes in victory and in glory, to wind up history so that the City of God is revealed, the Kingdom of God comes and we are received into it to be God’s own friends, God’s own companions, for ever and ever. Amen.