At Bethlehem’s manger, Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh. St. John affirmed: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” St. Paul testified that Jesus was “a man like us in all things except sin.” St. Luke would concur in the Son of God’s humanity testifying that the young Jesus would grow “in wisdom, age and grace before God and man.” The humanity of Jesus Christ is undeniable. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus; he thrashed the money changers in the Temple; he ate with both colleagues and competitors; and, of course, he suffered painfully and died undeniably. There is no denying the humanity of Christ.
But now, at Jerusalem’s garden tomb, this man Jesus Christ would arise in the spirit. The flesh and blood Jesus rose from the grave on Easter Sunday alive with a spirit that transformed and glorified his human nature. The renewed Christ alarmed his disciples. They thought he was a ghost. The risen Christ passed through locked doors. He knew no bounds. The resurrected Christ at Emmaus disappeared in an instant. He could vanish at will. Yet, the risen Christ was still the same man Christ. His voice was recognized by Mary Magdalene. He found his way to the favored Upper Room. He visited the familiar seaside wharfs and piers. He ate and drank with the disciples. His wounds were still evident.
Although alive with the spirit, the risen Jesus was no mere ghost. Christ’s full humanity, his body and his soul, would continue to be the instrument through which he would evangelize and convert the world. Certainly, Christ himself would no longer be working miracles in the streets of Jerusalem, no longer be preaching parables to the crowds in Galilee, no longer enjoying friendly company in Bethany. Instead, Christians must understand that Christ’s continued ministry would endure through the new community of flesh and blood believers that the world knows today as the Christian community, recognized most fully in the Roman Catholic Church.
Jesus could have rose from the dead a glowing spirit, a radiant ghost, a shining specter, like Samuel called back by a medium from the grave to advise Saul. But no, the resurrected Christ insisted that he had returned from death body and soul, flesh and spirit. The stone at the entrance of the tomb was pushed aside to emphasize Jesus’ bodily resurrection. The burial cloths were found apart, scattered about, thrown off by a body coming back to life. Jesus left these signs of a full and glorious corporeal resurrection, renewed in body and soul, revitalized in flesh and spirit. Christ insists that his was a material as well as a spiritual resurgence. The whole man Jesus had truly risen from the dead.
Christ’s legacy to the world, the Christian Church, is very much, like Christ himself, a body and soul entity. Like Christ, the Church is flesh and blood just as much as it is spirit and grace. The Scriptures and the Creeds are sublime truths to be pondered and studied by human minds leading to a deeper and loftier appreciation of revelation. The sacraments are human experiences of birth, growth, nourishment, marriage, healing, forgiveness and sacrifice, heightened and deepened to make accessible the whole range of Divine encounters. The commandments are a practical, human outline of what daily social life in the spirit of Christ will demand from every believer and every believing community.
The bodily resurrection of Christ is a firm affirmation that in Christ and through Christ the whole of God’s creation – the heavens and the earth, the family and the individual, the body and the soul – have been released from the power of sin and given a role in his continued ministry down through the ages. The Church community – the men and women who believe – are indeed the continuation of the Incarnation, the continuation of Christ’s flesh and blood mission here on earth, a mission now further enhanced and fortified by the glorious power of Christ’s Resurrection. St. Peter insists in the Acts of Apostles proclaimed at Mass this Easter Sunday: “He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”
This is the mission of the Church: to preach Jesus Christ, him crucified and him raised. And the mission of the Church is announced and realized in the same manner as the mission of Jesus himself was accomplished. Evangelization is a body and soul enterprise. The Church’s mission touches the mind and heart certainly but it also employs humanity’s corporeal nature and creation’s material universe to restore and proclaim the glories of God far and wide. Indeed, Christ has risen! And in the Risen Christ, all creation, spiritual and material, has been repaired, renewed and refreshed.
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