Posted April 18, 2021
3rd Sunday of Easter, Yr B
St Luke in today’s Gospel Reading wants to tell us that the risen Jesus is the same Jesus that the disciples had known and loved. He has flesh and bones, and he eats fish. In St John’s Gospel too, Jesus is solid and physical enough to invite Thomas the Doubter to put his finger into the holes in his hands and to put his hand into the hole in his side; and he later enjoys a hearty breakfast of grilled fish with his disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, which he himself has prepared for them, charcoal, grill and all. These evangelists want to tell us that resurrection involves the body, and that there is a real continuity between the body we experience now and the body we shall experience at the resurrection.
For St Paul the situation is rather more complex. In his thinking there is a marked discontinuity between the resurrection body and the body we experience now. For St Paul, the resurrection body is literally out of this world. ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God’, he says. That is: the body as we know it has no place in the world of the resurrection. Resurrection brings complete transformation, new creation, even. ‘We shall all be changed’, he insists. There is no grilled fish in St Paul’s conception of the resurrection body; and the absence of grilled fish in his thinking is not just an unaccountable gap in the information available to him. Eating is simply incompatible with resurrection. For if ‘flesh and blood’ cannot inherit the Kingdom of God but must be radically transformed, and if corruptibility cannot inherit incorruptibility, then what chance has grilled fish, unless of course that too is to put on incorruptibility and undergo heavenly transformation? The mind boggles.
On the other hand, if there is one thing that you cannot miss when you listen to St Paul speaking about the resurrection, whether Jesus’ resurrection or ours, it is this: he means the resurrection of this body. No doubt about it. ‘It is this body’, he tells the Corinthians, ‘that must put on immortality’; ‘it is this body that must put on incorruptibility.’ ‘And when this body has put on immortality, and this body has put on incorruptibility, then shall the saying be realized: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”‘
So realistic is St Paul about the fact that the resurrection body is this body that he can remind the Corinthians that the bodies that some of them were putting to immoral use were the very bodies that were intended by God for resurrection union with the Lord. ‘The body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. God has raised the Lord, and will also raise us up by his power.’ By which he means (as he explains to the Philippians) that Christ will ‘transfigure our lowly bodies to make them like his own in glory’.
So in spite of the differences between St Paul’s view and that of St Luke and St John, one thing they all have in common is the conviction that resurrection is essentially to do with this body. St Paul, it is true, has a more sophisticated understanding of the body than the two Evangelists, so much so that after twenty centuries scholars are still scratching their heads as to what exactly he means by it. But it is clear, all the same, that for him, as for the Evangelists, it is this body that is involved: for all the thoroughgoing differences between the body we experience now and the body of the resurrection, the fact remains that there is a radical continuity between them.
All this is not surprising, for in the thinking of these New Testament writers the human person is essentially bodily: they know of no soul or spiritual essence that can flit around naked. Your body is integral to your person, and vice versa, now and in eternity, even in the absence of grilled fish. From this it follows that how we conduct ourselves here and now in regard to our bodies and our material environment is extremely relevant to our resurrection existence.
I suppose the most obvious application of this insight is in the sphere of sexual conduct: at least, this is one of the applications that St Paul was compelled to make very emphatically in his dealings with those wayward Corinthians of his. We need to be keenly aware that the bodies that are now given to us as, among other things, the means of sexual intimacy are the sacred vessels that God will fill, and is already filling, with the life and holiness of the risen Christ. This thought will make us revere that dimension of our lives with as great a veneration as we would bring to the most sacred of sacred things. This is what St Paul means when he tells the Corinthians: ‘Glorify God in your body.’
But ‘Glorify God in your body’ has a far wider application than the sexual sphere. We should see every aspect of our physical existence – our bodies and the material things we use, the work we do, our possessions and the money we earn, even time itself, and illness, and ageing ‒ with our gaze fixed on the resurrection. We should see beyond the physical to the spiritual, beyond the temporal to the eternal, beyond physical attractiveness to the permanent, integral beauty of the human person in his or her totality destined to share Christ’s resurrection. Glorify God in all those things, so that you may share in the work of the very God who created the world, and created it with a single end in view: to manifest his glory in the risen Christ, and in those who belong to him.
Which brings us seamlessly to the Eucharist that we are about to celebrate. The Eucharist is God’s invitation to us to offer all that we are and all that we do, our embodied persons, as a sacrifice ‒ in union with Jesus, who offers himself and the world to the Father. As the bread and the wine and all created things are transformed in this Eucharist, so may we go out into the world with mind and heart transformed and with a new understanding of what it means for this body of ours to be destined for resurrection.
Fr Tom Deidun