The Creed, the Resurrection, and the Meanings of the Body of Christ

Continuing from yesterday…

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The Glorified Body of Christ, the Eucharistic Body of Christ, and the Ecclesial Body of Christ

Nowhere do we see a scriptural author straining harder at the limits of human language to describe what he has experienced in encountering the risen Christ than Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.  And nowhere are postmoderns more easily inclined to badly misunderstand Paul than here and even to pit him against the gospels when he is, in fact, teaching the same thing they are. 

Paul tells us of the risen body of Christ:

It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living soul”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15:44-45)

Our culture, habitually hearing “spiritual” not as “glorified and divinized” but as “disembodied, spectral, non-corporeal” then immediately assumes that Paul means Jesus came back as a ghost in precisely the way the apostles assumed Jesus was a ghost (Luke 24:37).  But recall that the entire point of Luke’s Resurrection account is to make clear that the gospel (which he was taught by none other than Paul) teaches that Jesus was no mere ghost, but was raised bodily:

And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them. (Luke 24:38-43).

The postmodern mind, resistant to this, replies “But Paul specifically says that Jesus, the last Adam, became a life-giving spirit.  Spirits are not bodies.”  Nor are souls bodies.  But Paul, speaking like a typically Jewish thinker, cites Genesis 2:7, which says, “The first man Adam became a living soul”.  This does not mean that Adam became disembodied.  It means that human beings are ensouled bodies and embodied souls.  In the same way, Paul sees the risen Christ as a divinized man.

In short, Paul believes in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus just as the evangelists do and just as the apostles do. That is why he elsewhere tells the Romans that we await “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  It is why he tells the Philippians that Christ “will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).  And he tells the Corinthians:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)

This is not the language of disembodiment but is rather language describing a transformed, glorified, and divinized humanity that remains embodied.  Paul expects, not to be an “unclothed” ghost, nor to receive a “tent” just like his mortal body, but to be given a glorious “building” greater than his mortal body as the temple was greater than the tabernacle.  In all this, he models his thinking on that of Jesus himself who likewise compared his body to the temple saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19).

This is why Paul speaks of the Resurrection, neither as disembodiment like a ghost, nor as a return to merely mortal life like Lazarus, but as being in continuity with, yet radically different from, earthly existence, just as the gospels do:

But some one will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish man! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body…. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body….The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-44, 47-49)

The inability of both Paul and the evangelists to fully articulate what they have experienced in encountering the risen Jesus is confirmed by something else.  It is what fans of Sherlock Holmes might call the “dog that didn’t bark”: namely, the curious fact that no gospel records the moment of the Resurrection itself.  All the gospels record it as a fait accompli by the time witnesses arrive on the scene—something no spinner of tall tales worth his salt would ever do. Indeed, the authors of some apocryphal gospels could not resist inventing quite spectacular yarns about the moment of the Resurrection.  But in the New Testament documents

No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses. Although the Resurrection was an historical event that could be verified by the sign of the empty tomb and by the reality of the apostles’ encounters with the risen Christ, still it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history” (Acts 13:31; cf. John 14:22). (CCC 647)

Because “Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father’s divine realm” (Cf. Matthew 28:9, 16-17; Luke 24:15,36; John 20:14, 17, 19, 26; 21:4) (CCC 645) neither Paul nor the rest of the New Testament writers therefore have any trouble believing that the body of Christ can be manifested in mystical ways beyond human understanding. Paul, for instance, understands that since the Ascension, Jesus is “seated at the right hand of God” in Heaven (Colossians 3:1) because Jesus himself said that is where he is (cf. Luke 22:69).  But Paul, like all the rest of the apostles, also knows that Christ, while never leaving Heaven, can also make his risen and glorified body available to us in all its fullness every single time the Eucharist is celebrated.  So the same Corinthians he teaches about the bodily Resurrection of the glorified Christ he also teaches:

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 chalice, after supper, saying, “This chalice 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 chalice, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:23-27)

And so Paul understands that the glorified body of the risen Christ does far more than simply prove he still exists beyond death.  Indeed, in the Christian tradition, mere life after death is, in a certain sense, unremarkable and pedestrian.  After all, Christians believe everybody continues to exist after death, even the damned.  Merely surviving the death of the body in some form or other would not have been news to the apostles.  It would have been confirmation of their belief in ghosts.

On the contrary, the glorified, bodily Resurrection of Jesus confirms that he is nothing less than “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4).  So he himself tells the Pharisees, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he” (John 8:28).  In other words, by being “lifted up” on the cross, in the Resurrection, and in the Ascension, Jesus shows that he is the I AM, the God of Israel revealed to Moses in the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14). “All truths, even those most inaccessible to human reason, find their justification if Christ by his Resurrection has given the definitive proof of his divine authority, which he had promised” (CCC 651).

Secondly, the Resurrection does something for us.  As Paul puts it, Jesus was “was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). In other words, Christ liberates us from sin by his death and opens for us the way to a new life by his Resurrection. So far from teaching us that we have to work hard to win his love, the New Testament says it was his love for us that drew him to die for us when we were still the sort of creatures who thought torturing him to death would be fun.  As Paul puts it:

While we were yet helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

So the strange harvest our race of murderers reaps in killing the Son of God is not the wrath of God, but a superabundance of God’s forgiving grace which overwhelms and swallows up death in victory “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4, cf. 1 Corinthians 15:54).  Our weak and fallen human nature is joined to his risen, glorified, and divinized human nature and given the power to begin the long road back from sin toward complete transformation into his image and likeness.

This risen, glorified, and divinized life is communicated to us in the sacraments, and supremely in the Eucharist, which is the risen, glorified, and divinized Body of Christ.

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)

Not surprisingly then, Paul moves seamlessly from this discussion the Eucharistic Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 11 to his discussion of the Ecclesial Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, where he sums things up by saying simply, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (v. 27).  The risen, glorified, and divinized humanity of Jesus made available to us in the Eucharist joins us to Christ the Head and makes us members of his Body the Church.  We will discuss this further in Chapter 13.

Finally, the risen Christ himself is therefore “the principle and source of our future resurrection” (CCC 655). As Paul puts it: “[O]ur commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Philippians 3:20-21). We will also discuss this further in Chapter 13.

On the Third Day in Accordance with the Scriptures

The Resurrection is a work of God the Blessed Trinity.  All three Persons of the Godhead are involved and, as in all things, all three Persons operate in perfect harmony to accomplish it.  The Father “raised up” Christ his Son (Acts 2:24, 32). The Son declares, “I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18). And that miracle of Resurrection is how Jesus is conclusively revealed as “Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4).

Because the Resurrection is the work of exactly the same God of Israel who revealed himself to Abraham, Moses, and the prophets in the Old Testament, the early Church understands Jesus as standing in continuity with, not contradiction of all that God has revealed in the Old Testament.  Jesus himself had insisted on this, teaching his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17). And so one of the curious details of the Resurrection story is the insistence of the eyewitnesses that Jesus was not merely raised from the dead, but raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.  Jesus, after all, could have been raised at any time after death was ascertained.  One hour, six hours, one day later would have been just as much a miracle.  But all the witnesses insist that Jesus was buried and remained in the tomb for three days (recalling that a day was reckoned to begin, not end, at sunset in his culture).  He was buried on Friday afternoon, but not raised till Sunday. And they insist that this Resurrection on the third day means that Jesus is therefore in continuity with and fulfillment of everything God has done in the history of Israel and the revelation he has given to and through the Jewish people.

So it is worth asking, “Why the third day?”

However, to get at the answer to that, we must first ask what a biblical author means when he says something “fulfils” or “is in accordance with” the Scriptures.

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Of which more next time.

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