Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 64, “The Transfigured Body’

Dear friend,

“His presence is strange; his coming shocks, terrifies. Actually he no longer comes and goes, but ‘appears’ and ‘vanishes’ with disturbing suddenness. Corporal limitations no longer hamper him; the barriers of time and space have ceased to exist. He moves with a freedom impossible on earth.”

So Romano Guardini describes the “transfigured” or resurrected Christ following his death and burial and disappearance from the tomb. In the previous chapter, RG explained that for first-century Jews—even some who might have wanted to believe in something that really didn’t happen—the idea of “an incarnate god who retained his corporality in the heavenly state” was an utterly foreign notion. It is not the first story a credulous Apostle or a plotting conspirator wishing to  establish a bogus church would have cooked up. And it would not have convinced anyone.

No, the “transfigured body” of Jesus was what convinced those who saw and heard and touched it, and shared meals with Him. It is this “tremendous mystery of Christ’s corporality” that Guardini is after here:

“Again and again [in the Gospel accounts] it is stressed: Here is something far out of the ordinary. The Lord is transformed. His life is different from what it was, his existence incomprehensible. It has a new power that comes straight from the divine.”

This should shake us as it shook the Apostles. “We find ourselves faced with the choice between a completely new conception of God and our relation to him, and utter rejection of everything that surpasses the limitations of a ‘great man.’ . . . We must also completely reform our idea of humanity. . . .  Resurrection consists of the transformation of the totality of our being, spirit and flesh, by the recreative power of God’s love. Living reality, not only idea, attitude or orientation.”

RG goes in for a long discussion of “gnosticism,” our modern rationality, and our preference for “spirituality.” This discussion is above my pay grade. But the concluding statement is comprehensible to me: “Christianity alone dare[s] to draw the body into the inmost sphere of divine proximity. . . . Redemption is more than an intellectual process.”

Well, now there’s an idea for the old Harkness warrior in me and you—who used to sit around an oblong table and argue ideas until we were blue in the unshaven face. We were after a transformation of the mind or even less: the manipulation of symbols and concepts into new, more pleasing patterns.

What Christianity promises is something of a different order: the change of our very selves, our existence, our bodies—with Christ’s.

Yours very truly,

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 65.

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