16 April 2011


I have just finished reading the recently-published volume 2 of the Pope's "Jesus of Nazareth" - and, by the way, you should read it, too! - and I was struck by something the Pope pointed out about the Resurrection of the Lord.

The Resurrection of Christ is physical.

Well, duh!  We Christians believe in the Resurrection of the Body, don't we?

Yes, of course we do.  It is, however, essential to bear in mind that the Resurrection is not simply resuscitation.  Lazarus, Jairus's daughter, the young man of Nain, were all resuscitated.  They were brought back to the ordinary life that we all live.  Eventually they died in the ordinary way.

The Resurrection of Christ, it is clear, is of another nature.  The Risen Lord appears in a locked room.  He disappears from the table after breaking bread with the two men in the inn at Emmaus.  He ascends into Heaven - whatever that is supposed to mean! - out of the sight of the Apostles on Ascension Thursday.  It is very easy for us unconsciously to feel - as the Apostles very consciously thought - that this is not really a physical being.  This is some sort of spook appearing as if physical.  This feeling is very stubborn in me.

This feeling is not surprising.  After all, my physical body cannot behave like this.  I have to unlock doors if I want to appear on the other side of them.  I have to get up and walk out of a room if I want to leave the table.  And the only way I am going to ascend into the heavens - much less into Heaven! - is courtesy of Air New Zealand or some similar agent.

Yet the Risen Christ is physical.  He demonstrates this to His disciples, after the pilgrims to Emmaus showed up back in Jerusalem (Luke 24:23-33):

Rising up there and then, they went back to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven apostles and their companions gathered together, now saying, The Lord has indeed risen, and has appeared to Simon. And they told the story of their encounter in the road, and how they recognized him when he broke bread.

While they were speaking of this, he himself stood in the midst of them, and said, Peace be upon you; it is myself, do not be afraid. They cowered down, full of terror, thinking that they were seeing an apparition. What, he said to them, are you dismayed? Whence come these surmises in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, to be assured that it is myself; touch me, and look; a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see that I have. And as he spoke thus, he showed them his hands and his feet. Then, while they were still doubtful, and bewildered with joy, he asked them, Have you anything here to eat? So they put before him a piece of roast fish, and a honeycomb; and he took these and ate in their presence and shared his meal with them.
 This, then, this new order of physicality, is what the Sacraments are about.  God can, after all, give the new life as He pleases.  He does not need physical means - means, after all, strictly of the old physical order - with one exception - to bring about whatever change in our own being that is this new life - this eternal life.  There are, indeed, many groups of Christians who believe that the Sacraments have nothing to do with the life of God that, we hope, has begun in us, and will be in us - God grant it! - forever.  Yet most Christians - Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, most Lutherans and Anglicans - are sure that God's normal way of granting new life is through the Sacraments.  In baptism we are really regenerated - born again with a new nature, a nature that is not only able to empower us to resist sin and to work righteousness, but a new nature which, if we do not kill it by decisively turning away from God, will mean that we will live forever in the joy of Communion with Him - able to see Him as He is, and not only through the images of Him that created reality bring us.

There is one Sacrament which, we believe, is more than this.  There is one Sacrament that - physically! - actually brings this new divine life precisely into our physical bodies.  That is the Eucharist.  That is what is meant by the Church's teaching that the Eucharistic elements are, after Consecration, no longer bread and wine, though all their old creation behaviour is that of bread and wine.  They are now the Body and Blood of the Risen Lord.  Received with faith, they are what St Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom in AD 108, called the 'medicine of immortality.'

Jesus said to them, Believe me when I tell you this; you can have no life in yourselves, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood. The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, lives continually in me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)