The Nature of the Resurrected body.
This coming week we will be gathering to celebrate the funeral rites for the repose of the soul of Teresa O’Dowd, a long standing, faithful parishioner of St Thomas More, who was part of our parish community for 23 years. She resided in Wollaton from 1992 to 2011 before moving into care at Beaumont House Derby in 2012. She died on Good Friday following a stroke – perhaps an appropriate day on which to die. Please, if you are free, come to her funeral to pray for the repose of her soul.
As Christians, when someone we love dies, our thoughts are naturally drawn to the nature of the resurrected body and what this means and implies. Being in the midst of the Easter Season, our readings at mass offer us many different descriptions of the Risen Lord which can assist and help us in trying to form some notion and understanding about the nature of his risen body. The first thing to say is that our language and our capacity to articulate our thoughts are often thwarted by the limitations of our human nature. What we see, what we feel and what we think, are all bound and restricted by the empirical world in which we live. We are part and parcel of the world we see around us, and how that impinges on us and our reactions to it define our thoughts. To attempt any talk of the resurrection is therefore already handicapped by those limiting realities. Our experience in the world is just that, and to attempt to convey what is beyond this experience is by definition, confined and constrained. What then can we say?
The evangelists in their choice of language are careful never to seek to describe the risen body of Jesus in terms which falsify the reality of Jesus’ presence. His ability to appear and disappear, to pass through solid objects, to interact physically with people through speech and touch are all described in very human ways. Indeed in today’s gospel, Jesus in his risen body seems to feel hunger and eats some fish, implying that the resurrected body may still experience the same physiological functions of our own natural ones! Yet at the same time, there is on the part of the disciples, a sense of fear and uncertainty, of non-recognition and of wondering who this person is. Was it all just a ghostly vision? Such responses are all absolutely understandable.
So where does all this get us? St. Peter in his first letter writes about the death and resurrection of Jesus in terms of its physical and spiritual realities: in the body he was put to death in the spirit he was raised to life. Peter is telling us that it is the Spirit of God that raises the crucified body of Jesus to new life. St. Paul too, writing to the Corinthians, attempts to describe the nature of the resurrected body by highlighting a radical change that takes place. By using the word spiritual he is not implying any sense of the ghostly. The spiritual body still retains it ‘bodyliness’ but in a way which clearly differentiates it from the physical body which will, as Paul tells us, put on death and then corrupt and decompose. In other words what animates the resurrected body is the spirit of God, which at the resurrection will inspire it, and all of this will happens according to Paul in the twinkling of an eye, since time itself no longer features.
It is into the heart of this mystery which Teresa has now passed. The limitations of time no longer bind her and whilst for us, time continues to pass and to work its ravages upon us, for Teresa such concerns are no more. She has changed, and in the continuum of that change, her mortal nature must put on immortality.