When a prayer minister asked me to look into the eyes of Jesus recently, something interesting happened. I couldn’t picture Jesus’ face in my mind’s eye very well, but instead I began to see the rest of his body before me – his chest, shoulders, arms, legs, toes. Though we know it as a theological fact, it was startling for me to realize that Jesus has a physical body!
The Gospel accounts witness over and over to the physical reality of Jesus’ risen presence – eating fish on the lakeshore, breaking bread with the disciples who were walking to Emmaus, telling Thomas to touch the wounds in his side. But don’t we often still imagine Jesus as some kind of disembodied spirit or floating head when we pray to him? When I was able to picture him as a flesh-and-blood body and sense the reality of his physical presence, it was such a gift. I pictured myself resting my head on his chest, Jesus placing his hand on my head and blessing me. As embodied creatures, we long for God to be near, so near that we can touch him. There is something unspeakably comforting about being in somebody’s warm, breathing physical presence.
Scriptures tell us that Jesus in his risen, tangible physical body is at the right hand of the throne of God interceding for us. Which means we can’t really touch him right now. He is physically absent.
But then again, he isn’t. His church, in all of our motley, colorful, jumbled living and breathing mess, is his physical presence on earth for now. It’s frightening to think that Christ turned it over to us to be bearers of his physical presence to the world. Yet it’s also exciting and beautiful.
Jesus gave his body for us as a broken, bleeding, crucified sacrifice. He continues to give his body for us through the elements of the Eucharist and through the physical presence of the church. Are we able to receive him as a body? Are we able to receive him through the embrace of his body the church?