Searching for Our Human Face: Ascension of Human Flesh

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

There is a moment after the resurrection when Mary Magdalene comes upon the gardener. Amazed at the disappearance of the body of the beloved, she asks the gardener if he knows what has become of the flesh of Christ. Jesus calls to her. In being named, Mary suddenly recognizes the body of Christ. This is a very rich episode and I will only mention a few interesting elements. Surely, one is meant to notice a recapitulation. Adam as Edenic gardener was gifted with a cooperative creativity made manifest by the naming of the animals. In the Gospel episode, there is a hint of this naming, along with the recessed implication that exile has been overcome. Many different scholarly and ideological approaches have pondered over the warning, ‘noli me tangere.’ A lot of feminist ink has been spilled that misses the point. There is nothing inherently illicit in Mary’s desire to grasp her Lord and Christ does not reject her.

In this regard, one should discern in this deferral of embrace between Christ and Mary the continuation of an atoning action that began with the institution of the Last Supper. Not only are Gethsemane and the Cross, and the descent into Sheol on Holy Saturday integral parts of that redemptive action, but as F.X. Durwell has emphasized, so is the Resurrection. Sergius Bulgakov further stressed that the ascension itself is a completion of atonement. Here is my private surmise: this naming, this love, is not distinct from, ancillary, or substantially obstructive to Christ’s mission. On the contrary, the naming is made possible and rendered complete when the Incarnate One brings human flesh into the temple of the Father’s heart. So it is only there, reserved and kept inviolate, that the name of anyone is to be discovered.

As Julian understood “the crown that he wears is the gift of ourselves kept in trust for us: all the gifts that God can give to the creature he has given to his Son Jesus for us, and, dwelling in us, he has enclosed these gifts in himself until the time that we are fully grown, our soul with our body and our body with our soul.” (modernized translation from Bauerschmidt, Julian of Norwich, p. 186)

There may be more to the story. I believe there is. Personally, I think there is a paradox between time and eternity. For me, in time, God waits for the eternal dance, but God does not wait. For those of us who groan in this monstrous world of suffering and the flourishing of wickedness, Christ still cries from the Cross, awaiting the day when all things shall be made new. Yet I suspect from eternity, the dance is, was, and always has been. We suffer here in time, even as we rejoice in eternity. As pilgrim, I seek to catch up with myself. But take that for a fantasy if you like. I do not care if you believe me or not. It is only a guess. What I am certain: in the middle, thrown into existence, nurtured well or poorly, taught truths in shadow, or lies useful to the state, wherever you find yourself, you are not alone.

(Go to “The Flourishing of Apokatastasis”)

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