‘You are witnesses of these things. Chris Collins
Our bodies are important to us. It is through our bodies that we communicate with others – most obviously with our mouths, but also with our body language. Often we do not need to be told that someone is angry with us; we can see it in their face. Words such as ‘I love you’ often do not need to be said, because the sparkling eyes will tell it all. And of course hand gestures can get you into deep trouble!
When Jesus appeared to the disciples on that first Easter evening it was with his body that he communicated the news that he had risen from the dead. He may well have had the ability to appear even in a locked room, but it was important that the apostles could see that it was really him. Jesus shows the disciples the marks in his hands and feet – proof that this was indeed the body that had undergone crucifixion; and he invites his friends to touch, for, as he says, ‘A ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have.’
Like the Jewish faith, we Christians cannot discount the body as being a kind of hostile prison in which the real us is held captive till we gain release when we die. Far from it; it was with his body that Jesus rose from the dead, and it was through his body that he communicated this truth to his earliest followers. It was with their bodies that these disciples would bring the Gospel to all the world: they travelled, they spoke, they endured pain, all involving the body.
This emphasis on the reality of the bodily appearances of the risen Jesus was important not only to prove that Jesus really was alive again, but also because the religion that would follow from loyalty to Jesus would be about being witnesses in this real world. The Christian faith would hold that the body was just as much a part of God’s good creation as the mind or the spirit that worked within it.
The body in worship
More than that, ours is a religion that uses the body in its worship. Water poured over the head makes an individual a Christian, and the bread and wine of Holy Communion maintain the vitality of the faith. And so in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, we feel the touch of the risen Christ. Even in the beginnings and in the nurturing of our faith, Christ touches our bodies every bit as much as he moves our hearts. The body is the frontline of contact with the touch of the risen Christ.
Without reaching up and using our hands to touch Christ’s gift of his own self, our faith is wafer-thin. Without submitting to his washing of our bodies, we have no part with him. And, as we are to be witnesses to all this, it will be through the actions of our own bodies, the words of our own lips and the subtle body language of our demeanour that others will know of our faith and may be brought into a similar relationship with Jesus. ‘Touch and see that it is me,’ says Jesus, present yourself for my washing, reach out and receive my Body and Blood, then be my witnesses in the world, touching and bringing my faith to others.’