The Coherence of Christian Theology V

The Incarnation and the Resurrection

The bodily Resurrection of Jesus from the dead follows necessarily from the Incarnation. If it was essential to God’s work of accomplishing our salvation that Jesus be fully human and fully divine, that is to say, if it was essential that Jesus have a human body, then the human body is essential to the afterlife. We are not, after all, going to be disembodied spirits in heaven. If our salvation is accomplished bodily, then our resurrection from the dead will be a bodily one. This is borne out in the several resurrection narratives in the New Testament. In Luke 24:39-43, Jesus asks his disciples to “handle him” to see that it is he. He asks them for a piece of broiled fish, which he eats in their presence. In John 20:17, Jesus exhorts Mary Magdalene not to “cling to him” which she could not have done if he were an immaterial spirit. Later in the chapter, at 20:27, he encourages Thomas to put his fingers into the nail marks in his hands, and to place his hand into side. Given Thomas’ reluctance to believe Jesus had risen from the dead without tangible proof, one would be hard pressed to understand Jesus’ words in any other way than to indicate he is, indeed, a bodily presence. We may well question how it was the nail marks and the spear wound remained as tangible signs of the crucifixion in his resurrected body, but this does not take away from the central point: Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Paul himself continues in this tradition, in 1 Corinthians 15, explaining that the resurrection from death is essential to the Christian gospel, and that such a resurrection involves a body, though such a body is a spiritual one, different, if continuous, with our flesh and blood body.

More to the point, without the Incarnation, the Resurrection is a useless and unnecessary addendum. If there were no Incarnation, then either through moral striving, or through noetic enlightenment, or both, we have our salvation. We need no Resurrection because we need no bodily salvation. It is the bodily aspect of the Incarnation that demands a bodily Resurrection, even if that body is of a kind Paul can only describe as spiritual and heavenly.

Non-Christian religions, and Christian heresies, very much want to downplay or dismiss the Incarnation for an emphasis on the immaterial soul. The material world is maya, or worse, concretely evil. But this sort of understanding doesn’t stand up to the sort of unconscious counterevidence we live each day. While many of us may prize, admire, and even envy, the intellectual acumen of our beloved, or the purity of their soul, in point of fact, we also want the body that goes along with that mind and soul. We may well one day discover what it is like to kiss telepathically, but I rather suppose few of us would enjoy it as much as the more conventional kissing we do. We may well miss the mere presence of our beloved when they are absent from us, but it is not a mere presence we wish to embrace. We prefer the warmth of body pressed to body, the tautness of the muscles executing the embrace, the scent of the hair, the fragrance of the perfume. We may occasionally engage in mental fantasy, but what we truly want is the humiliating joy of the sexual embrace. In short, our joy and satisfaction in our beloved is tied to a body. Does it not make sense that our future hope will not be something disembodied, but more truly embodied? I understand both the Scriptures and the Church Fathers and the Saints to affirm that there will be no sexual intercourse in heaven. But I cannot imagine that there will not be embrace.

But my own predilections aside, the logic of the Incarnation and the explicit texts of the Scriptures necessitate a bodily Resurrection. The Church Fathers have said emphatically that nothing that has not been assumed can be saved. Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, is the reality of not only a mind, a heart and a soul that is filled and transfigured with Life, but so, too, the flesh, the body. Union with God must include the transfiguration of the physical, if the Incarnation is what Christians claim it to be. God does not merely save our souls, he saves our bodies as well. We see this in the biblical accounts of Jesus’ own bodily Resurrection, but in the accounts of the lives of the saints whose bodies withstood impossible physical travails, seeming impervious to the elements. Limbs did not freeze in subzero temperatures. Extremes of fasting did not destroy the flesh, for Life transfigured them and made real Christ’s own words: they had food of which we do not know, for their food was to do the will of God.

The Resurrection, just as the Incarnation, is not only about the body, but it is not not about the body. Just as death involves soul and body, so the Resurrection involves soul and body. The principle of death lives in us physically, as well as morally and spiritually. Though we live in a society that takes great pains to hide the fact of death, we do not escape it’s reality. We fall sick. We age. We grow old. But the grace of God is that from the moment of our new birth, we begin to experience the Resurrection. Death must still take its toll on us, just as our Lord had to suffer death. But just as death has been swallowed up in the death of Christ, so too, our baptismal death gives us a pledge of our inheritance, so that though outwardly day by day we waste away, inwardly we are being recreated in the new man (2 Corinthians 4:16).

3 thoughts on “The Coherence of Christian Theology V

  1. Good stuff! I’m very interested in the doctrine of the resurrection of the body. I love what you said about embrace.

    Also, there’s a lot to explore about eucharist and the resurrection of the body. I like Cyril of Alexandra’s quote: “eating God causes us to bear within our members while still on earth the incorruptible body we will be after the trumpet sounds.” Because we feast on Christ’s body but we do not consume him (I mean consume in the sense that his body is never depleted – he is an unending source of sustenance) we know that death cannot consume us.

  2. You’re right, and thanks for the observation. When I revise this essay (I need to complete the rough draft first! I’m only part way there), I will need to include observations about it.

    I will be doing a section on the Incarnation and the Sacraments, though, plus a conclusion bringing all these sections together, so maybe it will make the first draft after all.

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