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He personally is with us

To say that Jesus rose from the dead is, among other things, to say that in spite of the fact that his love for us in obedience to his mission led to his death — or in fact because his love led to his death — he is still present to us, really present to us and loving us in his full bodily reality. It is not just that we remember him or imitate him, or that he lives on in a religious tradition. The good news is that he rose from the dead, that he went through real death to a new kind of bodily life with us. So that when we encounter someone who needs us, when we find the hungry and the imprisoned and the homeless, we can really say that here we encounter Christ, not in some metaphorical way, but literally. He personally is with us. The difference between having faith in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus and not having such faith is, at one level, the difference between really discovering Jesus in the needy and oppressed, and simply thinking that it is a rather beautiful idea. It is the difference between really believing, like Abraham, that God asks the impossible of us, to find life through death, creation through destruction, that God makes the impossible possible for us, and not believing in God — thereby making him just some part of the machinery of our world.

–Herbert McCabe, God, Christ and Us (Continuum, 2005), 39-40.

15 Comments

  1. Theophilus wrote:

    How does this square with the ascension? I’ve always understood that Jesus left in body and ascended to heaven, leaving us to literally encounter not Christ, but the Holy Spirit.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Certainly the ascension means that we must understand Jesus’s ongoing presence in light of an equally real absence. That said, I think the way Jesus’s promise to send from the Father “. . . another advocate to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. . .” is inextricable from his promise that “I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you.” (John 14:16, 18)

    In other words, whatever we say, I don’t think we can ever say we “encounter not Christ, but the Holy Spirit.” It’s the “not” there that I take to be the problem.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  3. Theophilus wrote:

    I’ll admit I’m drawing a rather sharp distinction between the persons of the Trinity, but I have trouble conceiving of the ascended Christ having “bodily life with us. The resurrected body, though certainly real and tangible and all, is simply no longer with us – if it were still here, then where on earth is it? (I suppose this is resolved if you pull the transubstantiation rabbit out of the Eucharistic hat, but as an Anabaptist I can’t but acknowledge that as sleight of hand.) So it’s perhaps not the “literal”-ness of McCabe’s quote that gets me on its own, but its being in conjunction with the “embodied presence” bit.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    As an anabaptist, I hear you there. I still want to find a way of avoiding positing any sort of disembodied mode of Christ’s presence, though. Like, I’m uncomfortable with any “literal” that isn’t “bodily”. It seems to me that we may have to reflect more on the transfigured nature of the resurrected body, a body which appears through closed doors, lies beyond our grasp, continues to come to us under modalities that we don’t normally understand as bodily. Of course that’s a lot of work.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  5. Hill wrote:

    It is the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit, but it seems as if this is specifically not an embodied presence, but a spiritual one. Yes, Christ is embodied, but our experience of him is through the Spirit. That same body that appeared through closed doors, lied beyond our grasp, etc. then seems to have explicitly left. I’m sympathetic to the impulse here, but it seems that the important aspect of this is that Christ’s physical body is not here, but that we are nonetheless incorporated in to it spiritually.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
  6. Hill wrote:

    Also, given the work that the concept ‘bodily’ is generally expected to do, a ‘bodily modality’ that we don’t normally understand as ‘bodily’ seems to be a contradiction. The whole point of ‘embodiedness’ is that it is readily comprehensible in experiential/physical/empirical terms. In other words, I think we have to be careful not to make the concept of ‘embodiedness’ meaningless by applying it to every experience of Christ.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I basically agree. I suppose the one thing I would insist would that we are, through the Spirit given the presence of the embodied Christ. So I’m fine with saying it is a Spiritual presence, but it is a spiritual presence of the embodied Christ, whatever that means.

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Permalink
  8. Matt Elia wrote:

    I’m not into transubstantiation either, but is possible to think a sense in which the Eucharist presents Christ’s body in a way that is MATERIALLY real, but not ‘literally’ real in the biological, flat sense we think as scientifically-inclined moderns?

    So I’m with Hill in his caution to preserve the significance of the concept of embodiedness, but I think scripture identifies Eucharistic meal as a real point of material contact with Christ’s bodily presence, that is, in a way that is distinct from experiencing Christ through prayer. Both could be said to be ‘real,’ but it seems only Eucharist is bodily/material/physical. I apologize if my language lacks precision in this question, but I hope it makes sense. Thanks for any help.

    (also, does anyone else find themselves wanting to insert ‘obliged’ at the end of a comment out a ill-conceived desire to import some of Daniel’s brilliance into an otherwise dull comment?)

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Permalink
  9. adhunt wrote:

    “The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might. No. The marvellous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing soley in His Father… – St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, par. 17

    The whole paragraph is worth checking out

    Monday, June 14, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Permalink
  10. erin wrote:

    Athanasius is good stuff, but I’m not sure it helps me w/ regards to McCabe’s quote? My problem isn’t so much how Jesus can be present as human and container, but rather how he can be enfleshed human, then dead, then human and enfleshed again, but not here,- but McCabe says he is still bodily here? It feels like a new kind of body is being created in these discussions, one that is really different from mine. (Thankfully).

    “The spiritual presence of the embodied Christ” is interesting- has some legs to it , I think., but the “spritual presence” freaks me out with its metaphysics. I want to make it mean the “ethical presence of the embodied Christ” instead, but by that time I’m too far downstream. ..and still typing

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink
  11. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    I don’t have the essay in front of me now, but didn’t Graham Ward write something that addresses these problems in the 1997 Radical Orthodoxy collection? Something about the “transcorporeal” nature of Christ’s body, it’s capacity to be Eucharist, to be the body of the poor and oppressed, etc. In other words, Christ radically transforms the meaning of being or having a body. Athanasius’ quote made me think of it.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink
  12. Theophilus wrote:

    This sort of thinking ends up with Jesus possessing no fewer than three distinct bodies: the ordinary human body that died on the cross, the resurrected but physical body that was resurrected at Easter and ascended to heaven, and the “transcorporeal” body that is all these other things you mention.

    I don’t have the resources to seriously critique that, but it seems to me a significant implication that might be challenging to reconcile with some of the dualistic comparisons of the old and new bodies that crop up in the NT. It also reminds me at least in passing of Benny Hinn’s erstwhile claim that each of the three members of the Trinity was itself a trinity, composed of three parts, though I don’t think you’re doing that kind of theological lunacy whatsoever.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  13. adhunt wrote:

    It’s called “The Displaced Body of Jesus” and it’s both in the Radical Orthodoxy collection and in his Cities of God. But Ward talks a lot about bodies and much of his work could be referenced with respect to them.

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  14. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Despite the theological points here, and not denying the importance of thinking what this all means; the idea that Jesus is present with us by the Holy Spirit is an exceedingly comforting idea. Thanks for sharing this, Halden.

    Friday, June 18, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  15. Grace wrote:

    That’s not Jesus in the flesh. Jesus in the spirit is not Jesus in the flesh. And to the average joe going to church, this is an argument over definition and not actual experiences of the presence of Jesus. Lets hear some real “I know Jesus is present because of my experience of…..” thoughts. Can those not help us understand Jesus as body and spirit?

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 9:27 am | Permalink

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