The question at the time caught me off guard. As a student of theology and religion, I was used to being asked to defend and explain my theology, but this was something different. I had been talking to someone about some old fears, a battle with disordered eating and a hauntingly skewed image of body. I was explaining that what had helped me to move past some of these fears was a faith that gave me hope in a world far beyond them, where wounds would one day be healed and tears would be no more. His response pulled me down from my seemingly hopeful, ascended place. “What is your theology of the body?” he asked. “How does God speak to your physical existence right now?” I didn’t know how to respond. How had my body accompanied me in life and faith? I wasn’t quite sure that it had.
The physical isn’t a matter the spiritual always consider. But for the Christian, they are severely and mercifully united and there is a world of hope in the considering. What does it mean that Christ came in the flesh, with sinew and marrow? What does it mean that the terrible events of Holy Week just upon us were enacted in a body? What does it mean that the quickly spreading claims of resurrection did not take the easier route and claim that Jesus was simply spiritually risen from dead? They ate and drank with him. They touched his fatal wounds. They insisted that Jesus came back from the horrors of the cross in a resurrected body.
What does it meant that Christians claim that Jesus is the vicariously human, risen Son of God, a corporal being who now sits at the right hand of the Father? What does Christ’s wounded and resurrected body have to do with our own today? These are the questions the church holds physically and attentively close, though the modern divorce of the spiritual and the physical, heaven and earth, what is now and what will be, has made them difficult questions to consider. Now more than ever, nonetheless, these are ideas worth re-examining.
For among religions, it is a most unique hope: God in a body. God in a risen body. The distinctive promise of the Christian is union with none other than this human Christ himself. In faith and by the Spirit, we are united to the same body that was on the cross and was in the tomb, that ate with friends and walked with the unwanted—both before and after his own death. We are united with a body that was wounded and humiliated, dead and buried, a body that is very much a human and physical promise that we no longer need to fear death. Of its theology of the body, the New Testament is very clear: “Since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”(1)
As it turns out, the biblical depiction of the God who comes to recreate all things is far more “earthy” than I once wanted to entertain, and the same is true for many others, whether Christianity’s critics or lauders. No matter how privatized and irrelevant, or removed and other-worldly we might want to describe Christianity or Christ himself, it is unavoidably a faith that intends us to encounter and experience these bright mysteries: God in flesh redeeming the here-and-now, everyday, hand-dirtying occurrences of life in bodies.
It is no small promise that Christ came and died and was resurrected as a vicariously living body. He walked empathetically near to the material world he came to recreate. He suffered and died in a body. And he remains a real and living body that will return to wipe every real tear from our real eyes. The body of Christ that the church holds up to the world through Holy Week and beyond represents something more fully human, more real than ourselves, and it is this reality that Jesus lifts us toward, transforms us into, and advocates for on our behalf. The real presence of Christ adds a certain and heavenly dimension to our lives to be sure, but to describe this as anything other than a dimension that profoundly orients us here and now, in real bodies to the world around us, is to profoundly misunderstand the gift.
Far from a subject for another time or place, the current global crisis invites us to lean into this idea. How might God be speaking to your physical existence even now? How does your body accompany your questions and encounters with God? Consider Christ who walked among the world as a human body, who crumbled to his knees in prayer, who set his face toward the anguish of the cross, who offered his body for the sake of yours. And who today, resurrected and restored, stands and physically calls us to come further into this bright mystery even today.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) 1 Corinthians 15:21-22.