Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The Fulcrum of Reality

Our Lord was raised bodily from the dead, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that he was some sort of zombie. What Jesus underwent was not a mere resuscitation, although resuscitation was involved in a sense. The empty tomb is mentioned in all the gospels, in the Acts of the Apostles, and in St. Paul's writings. It was an important fact, and it cannot be minimized that a real, material body got up and left the tomb. The risen body was the same body that died, but now, at the resurrection, it was transformed into something new, a new kind of body. St. Paul calls this a spiritual body, writing, "It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body," (1 Cor 15:44). But we must not make the mistake of thinking that our Lord was a ghost of some sort, or that his body wasn't material. The word translated here as physical is psychikon in Greek, which normally refers to a human life, mind, or soul. The word rendered spiritual is pneumatikon in Greek, always refering in the New Testament to supernatural power - the life of God Himself. The sentence might be rendered better as "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a supernatural body." Evidence of this interpretation abounds in the resurrection accounts of the gospels. In John 20:19, we are told that, on the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." A few verses later, St. John tells us that Jesus appears again and charbroils real fish, and with his hands breaks real bread (John 21:13-14). Ghosts cannot do that.

Jesus' body after the resurrection, we begin to sense, is not less real than our own, but more real, because even his body is no longer merely material. We experience our bodies as limiting factors, especially in childhood and in old age. A little kid reaches up to grab something on a counter that is hopelessly too high, and that the child simply cannot reach. An old person finds that his body doesn't work as fast as his mind does anymore, and that he cannot run or swim as he would like. Even in the flush of virile manhood, some things are simply beyond reach, and one's appetites and bodily urges often overrule, or at least interfere, with one's better intentions. Jesus, on the other hand, after the resurrection no longer experiences limitations on his body. And that makes sense - God did not give us our body to trap us in death, but as a beautiful way of living life. Sin and death intervene and interfere, but in the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth, sin is vanquished and death is slain: "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor 15:55). Time and space, dimensions that arise to accomodate our bodies, no longer bind our bodies or dominate them. In the body of Jesus of Nazareth, all that we "know" to be real is set aside, when it comes to "life" and "the way things really are," from unruly urges to hopelessness to death. Jesus of Nazareth changes all of that, and so we recognize Him as the Christ.

But Jesus wants to live with us, and knows we need to live with him, like we live with our family and neighbors and roommates. "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me," (Jn 15:4). Now Jesus did not come to be with us just to be with us, or rather them (the Apostles) for a few years and then to split, but to abide with us. Our God is NOT a deadbeat dad. Our God is a loving Father, more loving than any of us has experienced in human flesh. And he's not going anywhere, either. Jesus says to us, "I am with you always, to the close of the age," (Mt 28:20).

But how so. He certainly seems to have split, to have left the building, so to speak. Indeed.

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26).

Already in just the decade following that in which our Lord suffered and died, St. Paul is reminding the early Christians in Corinth about the Lord's words. Jesus has left us his presence, not only spiritual, but physical as well, which is fitting, since he made us to be not only spiritual beings, but physical beings as well. We need both sorts of presence from the people that love us, and need to give both sorts to the people that we love. Nothing else will satisfy our whole person.

This explains the meaning of John 6. In that passage, Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes to feed the masses. They want to make him king, because, hey, he can get the economy going again, right? Free food for everyone. You'll never have to work again. "Ugh," Jesus must have thought, and then set out to correct their mistake. He does not want to nourish them with ordinary bread. They can do that themselves. He wants to nourish them with himself. He wants to BE their bread. Think about it, our God loves us so much that he wants not only to be with us, but to be in us, to be united to us in every way - spirit and body. This is the manner in which he wants to abide with us for eternity. But how can that happen?

The resurrection provides the missing key. Because at the resurrection Jesus becomes unbounded from the normal rules of reality, time, space, and all that, Jesus can be anywhere and everywhere, all at once. Jesus can physically be in me, in you, and in the golden box on the altar, and sitting on a throne of glory in a realm we cannot attain by our own strength and senses - all at once. This is weird, and outside of our immediate experience, but it makes sense. Why should we expect the ordinary conditions of time and space to limit the Almighty who made them, or the weaknesses of a human body to cage him in, when even the tomb could not?

At the Eucharist, in the act of praising and loving God, those baptized into his body receive his body, and the new, spiritual sort of body is planted in us anew, and the new sort of life grows stronger and more vibrant in us, bit by bit, hindered only by our own willfulness and sin. Our ability to attain heaven, the life of God in perfect bliss, will not come in this life by the removal of exterior obstacles, but by the removal of the interior obstacles that prevent us from handling them in peace. The spiritual life begun in us by baptism will be awakened as we embrace it and make a concerted effort to learn to live it. On the cross, Jesus defied death to its face, and at the resurrection he overcame it. In the sacraments, Jesus has transmitted to us in bodily form this way of sharing in his bodily resurrection. The resurrection is the fulcrum on which the old "reality" is lifted and overturned, and the new one set in its place.

No comments: