The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion(no. 10)
“I Believe . . . in the Resurrection of the Body” (Apostles' Creed)
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them: “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side (John 20:19-20).
They [the disciples] were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then Jesus said to them: “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have” (Luke 24-39).
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life – for the Life was made visible and we have seen and testify to it (1 John 1:1-2).
C.S. Lewis once remarked that many Christians suffer from a hyper-spiritualism that distorts and retards their faith. These believers, he said, want to be “more spiritual than God!” In fact, the first great heresy that troubled the Church, and which the apostles themselves had to combat, was the belief that Jesus could not really have come in the flesh. The eternal Word could not possibly have lived a truly human life, for bodily things are evil, while whatever is good is truly spiritual. This sort of spiritualism was later termed “docetism” from a Greek word that means “to appear”. In this view Christ seemed to human sight to have a bodily existence, but this was a mere appearance. And certainly if The Incarnation was not what it seemed, the risen Christ had to have been a “pure” spirit, his visual appearances a mirage. The apostle John was looking over his shoulder at this sort of spiritualism when he wrote “. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
Lewis' remark reminds us that a good deal of “docetism” may still dilute the faith of many Christians, blinding them to the full mystery of the Resurrection of Christ (and ours with him).
This is one reason why the Easter narratives in Holy Scriptures stress the physical touching of the marks of the wounds in the body of the risen Christ. This may also explain why the apostles were so keen on preserving the memory of the Easter meals (Luke 24; John 21:12) — a theme to be explored next week.
“I believe in the resurrection of the body”. The profession refers to the resurrection, first of Christ himself. For our Lord Jesus did not “discard” the mystery of The Incarnation. He remains forever the one “born of the Virgin Mary”. Nor did the risen Christ simply “leave behind” his self-offering on the Cross. He remains forever the Crucified One. Just so, we who live and die in the body, who suffer in the body, who love in the body, have his truly human companionship. It is God who created the body as well as the soul. It is the same God who redeems the body as well as the soul. It is truly all of you that God will raise from the dead.
And so it seems appropriate to end with one of St. Paul's benedictions. “May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy, and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
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