Geoffrey Kirk on the significance of Christ’s risen body

For proponents of women priests, unable to carry the day with the argument that the maleness of Jesus is not ‘soteriologically’ significant [considered last month], the nature of his risen body seems altogether more hopeful. Not so.

For modern-day Christians the doctrine of the resurrection of the body has generally proved something of an embarrassment. They prefer a notion of ‘spiritual’ rather than bodily resurrection – for Jesus and for themselves. But the biblical evidence and the tradition of the Church are clearly against them.

Though there are certainly very distinctive characteristics about the risen body of Jesus – it can walk through solid objects like walls and doors and is not at first immediately recognizable. But the elements of continuity out-number by far those of discontinuity: the body is tangible, can eat and drink, and most importantly, bears the wounds inflicted at the crucifixion.

Importance of the wounds

This last (the matter of the wounds, that is) has always figured largely in representations of the risen Christ, precisely because it forms the climax of John’s Gospel, where Thomas is forced to acknowledge, after the resurrection, the sarx of the one whose incarnation is theologically delineated in chapter one.

Charles Wesley made that theology memorable in a famous verse: ‘Those dear tokens of his passion/Still his dazzling body bears/Cause of endless exultation to his ransomed worshippers/With what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars.’

A body which still bears the accidental marks of earthly life will necessarily also be sexually differentiated: for sex is an indelible feature of humanity, a precondition of human existence.

Feminists, of course, have often wanted to portray sex as incidental to human identity: more like cultural characteristics which are learned, than DNA, which is inherited and so given.

The proof text which they often cite for a sexually neutral resurrection is Matthew 22.30 [= Mark 12.25; Luke 20.35] ‘…in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven.’

The same body

I doubt that many up-to-date, right-on feminists believe in angels, so the passage is largely redundant for them. But it is worth noting that the majority of those who have believed in angels over the centuries has not assumed that because they do not marry (which is all we can safely conclude from the passage) that they are sexless. The poet Milton for example (in his De Doctrina Christiana,) has a prolonged section on the gender of angels, citing numbers of patristic authorities.

Such speculations apart, however, it is clear that the desire to deny the sexuality of the risen Christ results in the denial of a number of fundamental doctrines. If the body of the risen Jesus is not in every essential continuous with the one who took human flesh from the womb of Mary, then his death and ‘resurrection’ are irrelevant to our salvation (‘not taken, not healed’). It is hard to see the point of an Incarnation which ends in the grave.

A risen Jesus without wounds (and by the same token without sexual differentiation) is simply not Jesus.