Fr. Angelus Echeverry, O.S.B.
Perhaps there has never been another time in history where people have been so preoccupied with body image. It would seem that there is more concern for the visible body, than for the invisible soul. Many seem to worry more about nutrition and exercise than over their mental and spiritual health, when really both are important. The reasons for this are as varied as the people involved. Some experience conditions like anorexia and bulemia seeing their own bodies in ways that most do not; others submit to cultural expectations – whether these be how a body should look, or what a body is used for (i.e. only for pleasure). But there also exist special motives. These might be our wanting to look and feel our best – and that’s a good thing, but there appears to be an imbalance today, an overemphasis on the external elements of our person, our physical bodies (remember that the Church teaches that a person is both body and soul…not simply a soul occupying a body. There is no duality, but unity in personhood.) The body, therefore, is not something ‘optional’ that we can use for our benefit, or diminish it’s dignity, manipulate or mutilate it, or discard it altogether when we decide ‘we are done with it,’ but rather it is an integral part of who we are as persons, and only God as its Creator may decide when to bring the body to life and death. This may sound obvious, but it seems that today anything goes. Now, some of these motives come naturally in human beings, while others, truthfully, are mental distortions. The notion, for instance, that if we don’t believe to be the physical gender we are, or in some extreme cases even the species we are, given to us by a loving God, that we can somehow change that – that it’s somehow our right – well, this is erroneous. Of course, anyone who experiences any body image issues whatsoever, is to be treated with love, compassion and gentleness, and encouraged to embrace the bodies given them by God. Please know that I am not saying that certain cosmetic surgeries are not ok or even necessary, but it is the motive behind it that I am referring to.
Our gospel today zeros in on a body. The body of Jesus; first by demonstrating that the body that died on the cross was not there when Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb; but moreover, that that same body was also now different….in one sense unrecognizable, in another utterly familiar, and that same body, made itself present to Mary. What is important about this gospel for us today, in light of what I just mentioned, is that through a deep contemplation of the resurrected body of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can alleviate misconceptions we may have about our own bodies, and about personhood itself. By meditating on the mystery of Jesus’ physical body truly dying and rising, we restore balance to our person, and are reminded of what is truly important; in a word, that we too will share in Jesus’ resurrection, that we too will have a glorified body. What this means, theologians are at a loss…like so much of our faith it remains utter mystery. Mystics have told us that Jesus still has his wounds in heaven, and the Book of Revelation describes his body in almost super-human terms. However it works, one thing is sure, Jesus is alive, and He is One….he has conquered death. How nonchalantly we believers say that sometimes. But it is the central mystery of our faith, and without it, as St Paul says, our faith is in vain.
Mary Magdalene went looking for the physical body of Jesus in the tomb, driven by her chaste love for him, a love rooted in friendship of disciple to teacher. To her, and to our own surprise, she received so much more than what she ever set out to find. She just wanted to be near Jesus, but had not expected to see him alive! Discovering the tomb empty of his body, she assumes, as all of us would, that the body has been taken. We are told that suddenly, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus, until he calls her by name, and the ‘eyes of her heart’ are opened to the reality of what and Who she is beholding…the Risen One. He then tells her not to cling to him for he has not yet ascended to the Father. This indicates that his body is no longer the same, even though he is the same one he’s always been…the Lord. Jesus gives her an angelic role to announce to the disciples that she has seen the Lord….in this new way.
So, why is Jesus’ human body so important to our faith? Because if Jesus wasn’t truly human our human nature could not be redeemed, and if Jesus isn’t at the same time God, then he could not have the power to truly save us. As both God and man, Jesus reminds us of the full dimension of our person, as children of the Father made completely in his image.
May this Eucharist fill us with the same holy desire Mary Magdalene possessed in seeking out the Lord. May our hearts ‘see’ the Risen Lord alive in our midst guiding us to Himself through His Church, by His Love, that we might focus more often on the magnificence and splendor of our Lord’s body, that it might serve as a reminder of what is truly important in our lives….seeking him, seeking what leads to eternal life with the Trinity. Just as Adam was from the earth, and Jesus from heaven, St Paul reminds us ‘we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.’ In the Risen Christ, may it be so.