The Church is the Place of Resurrection
‘Today you will be with me in paradise’.
The Church is the world in process of transfiguration, the world that in Christ reflects the light of paradise. This paradisal presence is Christ himself, who could say to the thief full of faith crucified with him, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23.43). Christ and the Church are one and cannot be separated. The sacraments are a last link in a series whose terminus is our participation in the life of God. For the Body of Christ is where Christ’s saving presence in the world manifests itself. This Church God ‘framed’ out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of Man. His body crucified and his blood shed are the true elements of that heavenly being ‘which makes us to be like him’ It is paradise. The sacraments are the ‘medicine that cures the world’. God in Christ is distributed to each of us not as bare resemblances or memorials of things absent or naked signs and testimonies of grace received before. They are effectual means whereby God when we take the sacraments delivers into our hands that grace available to eternal life. ‘Today you are with me in paradise’.
Drenched with Deity
The world-in-Christ, the new heaven and the new earth, means the heaven and the earth renewed, brought to us in the Church’s sacraments and in the sacrament of Holy Scripture. The universe is being ‘drenched with Deity’. ‘All things that are of God, have God in them, and they in himself likewise, and yet their substance and his are very different.’ The different sacraments (or ‘mysteries’) are only aspects of the sacramental character of the Church, as a whole, whose heart and brightest light is the ‘mystery of mysteries’, the Eucharist. ‘Flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s Scriptures. For the Church has been planted as a garden (paradisus) in this world’ (Irenaeus of Lyons Against Heresies, V, 20, 2 (Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol I, p548).
In the Holy Spirit the Church is the mystery of the Risen Christ, his sacramental presence, the place of resurrection. In this Pneumatosphere the preaching of the Apostles, the Good News, is always alive and present. Faithful and creative Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Body of Christ. The Spirit abounds most plentifully in the sacramental body of Christ, but wherever the Spirit is at work in history and in the universe, the Church is secretly present.
An excellent vessel
Here, wrote Irenaeus, God makes himself present to us in faith. This faith never ceases. ‘Which having been received from the Church, we do preserve.’ Always by the Spirit of God, it is being renewed as if it were some precious deposit in an excellent vessel. Where the Church is, there the Spirit of God is also; and where the Spirit of God is, there the Church is, and every kind of grace.
The Bride of Christ is the mother of living truth for us, the place of resurrection.
Arthur Middleton is a tutor at St Chad’s College, Durham.