The Gospels of the Easter season often speak of the resurrected Christ, especially his appearance.
We hear of him not being recognized — as was the case with Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning, or as with fellow companions on the road to Emmaus.
- We hear of his resurrection disbelieved, as with Thomas.
- We hear of him walking through closed doors with his disciples thinking him a ghost.
- We hear how he ate fish and cooked breakfast.
- And most of all, we hear how he still bore the marks of his crucifixion — with Thomas able to put his finger in the nail marks and the lance wound in his side.
All of this tells us, as one of my theology professors used to say, “It was the same Jesus, but Jesus was not the same.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains Jesus’ new state in this way: “By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples … above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion. Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ’s humanity can no longer be confined to earth …” (n. 645).
What about the wounds
How do you envision this risen Christ?
White robes? Glowing from within? Walking on air? With holes in his hands?
Many of us — like Thomas — might be uncomfortable thinking of seeing Jesus with wounds. Yet that is exactly what St. Paul preached when he reminded the Corinthians we believe in “Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).
Christ was not ashamed of his wounds; they spoke of his love. They are badges of glory and symbols of hope.
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of the church, pointed out that the “scars that remained in Christ’s body belong neither to corruption nor defect, but to the greater increase of glory, inasmuch as they are the trophies of his power.”
Christ’s wounds remind us that God doesn’t hide himself from us. As Pope Francis said at the canonization Mass for Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in 2014: “(O)n the body of the risen Christ, the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us.”
Finally, Christ’s wounds remind us that Jesus’ body is real and is the very same body he had before the cross. Aquinas noted this and said that “flesh, bones, blood and other such things, are of the very nature of the human body. Consequently, all these things were in Christ’s body when he rose again… otherwise it would not have been a complete resurrection.”
Christ’s resurrected body also gives us a glimpse of what resurrection will mean for each of us. In the creed each Sunday, we profess that we “look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” The catechism tells us that this resurrection of the dead “means not only that the immortal soul will live on after death, but that even our ‘mortal body’ will come to life again” (no. 990).
Bodies like wheat
What will those bodies be like? The Corinthians asked the same question. So Paul compared our earthly bodies to individual grains of wheat, saying that “God gives (each grain) a body as he chooses” (1 Cor 15:38). However, while we cannot know now what those bodies will be, Paul assured us: “There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another. … So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible” (15:40-42).
Still today we wonder what those resurrected bodies will be like.
The Catholic Encyclopedia gives us these teachings from tradition about resurrected bodies:
- They have our same identity — the same way Jesus’ disciples recognized him, we will be recognizable;
- We will rise entirely — body, soul and spirit;
- We will be immortal.
- A bit more for saints
Of course, this is true of all humans. There is a little more that will distinguish the bodies of the saints, the children of God:
- Impassibility. This means these resurrected bodies will be beyond pain or any bodily weakness. Psalm 121 eludes to this when it says, “By day, the sun will not strike you, nor the moon by night”(6).
- Glory (sometimes called clarity). Jesus promised this in his teaching about the judgment of the nations: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Mt 13:43).
- Agility. This means that our bodies will move quickly and easily. There will be power in them such as we can only imagine now. This is why Jesus could appear and disappear so quickly to the disciples heading toward Emmaus.
- Subtlety. This unusual word, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, “takes its name from the power to penetrate.” It means that our bodies will be completely perfected and fully at the will of our glorified souls. So nothing can stop our resurrected bodies when we can act fully according to God’s will.
No doubt, this aspect of subtlety also means the locked doors will be no hindrance.
Sources: The Summa Theologica; The Catholic Encyclopedia; Catechism of the Catholic Church; The New Jerome Biblical Commentary; The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia; Sacramental Theology; The Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism; catholic.com; and Catholic News Agency