When our daughter Victoria was quite young, one of her favourite Bible stories was that of Jesus roasting fish by the shore of a lake and calling Peter over to join him. It remains one of my favourite images of the risen Christ. It is a comforting image. Jesus has returned through the resurrection and wants to share a meal with his friend. Although he can enjoy a piece of fresh caught tilapia, he can also pass through walls as if they didn’t exist. Is this what heaven will be like?
A very different image of the risen Christ dominates our parish church. Overlooking the sanctuary is a massive mosaic portraying an ethereal Christ floating in a formless cosmos. Although the wounds of the crucifixion are evident, there is little to connect with Jesus’ humanity. Breakfast on the beach seems a long way away.
Yet another image of the risen Christ comes from first-hand witnesses. “And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him . . . And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (Lk 24:15, 30-31). What was it about Jesus that prevented them from recognizing him? Did he deliberately alter his appearance to make this reenactment of the Last Supper more dramatic?
Our interest in the risen Christ goes far beyond theological speculation because of our concern about our place in the next world. As we express each time we pray the Nicene Creed, “. . . I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Indeed, Jesus has told us something about that new life and even promised a warm welcome. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you” (Jn 14:2).
If Jesus is going to prepare a place for us, it must mean that it is a new place, one unlike anything we have ever pictured in our minds. Thus we are forced to create a new picture, as C. S. Lewis explains in Miracles. “It is not the picture of an escape from any and every kind of Nature into some unconditioned and utterly transcended life. It is the picture of a new human nature, and a new Nature in general, being brought into existence. We must, indeed, believe the risen body to be extremely different from the mortal body; but the existence, in that new state, of anything that could in any sense be described as a ‘body’ at all, involves some sort of spatial relations and in the long run a whole new universe.” The risen Christ has indeed prepared a new world for us, a world not limited by the universe we know and, yet, somehow a world which will be familiar to us. If our own bodies are to be perfected through resurrection and achieve a new form, then nature, too, will be perfected.
The point is that we simply cannot know what the next world will be like. What is important is that we focus on the risen Christ and remember we are destined to share in his resurrection as expressed in our Easter prayers. “All you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” By putting on Christ we share not only in his resurrection, but in his humanity as well. Deep within us is a desire for that union. In his theology of the body, St. John Paul II describes it as an “original solitude,” which goes beyond our natural inclinations and seeks communion with the Divine. This longing is not an accident. St. John Paul II reminds us that the image of God has been placed in our souls. Moreover, he explains that this invisible image does have a physical reality, that the human body is a sign of the divine image in the human soul, “. . . only the body is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be a sign of it” (Theology of the Body 19:4).
Created in the image and likeness of God, an image tarnished by the Fall, we seek a restoration of that image. In the risen Christ we see the perfection of the human body, uniquely and inexplicably linked. As we gaze at the risen Christ, we also anticipate our own resurrection and the perfection it will bring.
Kostyniuk, who lives in Edmonton, has a bachelor of theology from Newman and is a freelance writer. He and his wife Bev have been married for 39 years and have eight grandchildren.