One of the earliest Christian theologians in the West, Tertullian, once used a play on words in Latin to express one of Christianity’s most fundamental beliefs: Caro salutis est cardo. Flesh (caro) is the hinge (cardo) on which salvation turns. In other words, the weak and mortal human body is the hinge on which the door of salvation swings open.
At Easter, we proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, is risen from the dead in his human body. Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity that he is, he took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary at Christmas. On Good Friday, he suffered and died in the flesh. Now at Easter, he is risen from the dead, not just in some spiritual, symbolic or mystical fashion, but risen in the flesh.
Once, Saint Paul was trying to preach the Gospel to the elite of ancient Athens, capital of learning in the pagan world. They were all ears until Paul spoke of Christ’s Resurrection in the body. As soon as he did, the session was over. “This is all very interesting,” his learned audience said. “We’ll have to hear more about it some other time.” How polite, how unbelieving, how withering! They refused to even listen. From the very beginning, Christian faith in a bodily Resurrection has met with disbelief and even scorn.
Every time we say the Creed, we profess our Christian faith in “the Resurrection of the body,” not just Christ’s, but our own. Saint Paul teaches: “If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his spirit who dwells in you.” “Do you not know,” the Apostle asks, “that your bodies are members of Christ? You are not your own. So glorify God in your body.”
This is part of our great victory celebration on Easter Day. In a manner known only to God, the whole human person, soul and body, too – whether buried, burned, consumed or otherwise vanished – will be raised up on the last day to appear before the judgment seat of Christ. As human persons we are, and will be, both body and soul for all eternity. In Christ, the male body is already glorified in heaven, as is the female body as a result of Mary’s Assumption.
Yet as Scripture tells us, “Someone will ask, how are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” “Foolish people,” Saint Paul answers, “what you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body which is to be, but a bare kernel, a seed. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. Then the word that is written shall come about: death is swallowed up in victory.”
Today it is important to be clear that Christian faith is totally incompatible with false beliefs like reincarnation, “New Age” notions of disembodied spiritual liberation and “New Cosmology” that reduces Christ’s Resurrection to a mythical story that is only symbolic of an evolutionary pattern of human awareness or consciousness.
Caro salutis est cardo! The body of Christ, crucified and risen, is the hinge of salvation. This truth is reflected in the liturgy. All the Easter sacraments of initiation – baptism, confirmation and the holy Eucharist – are bodily encounters with Jesus. In these sacraments, our bodies and not just our souls are sacramentally washed with water, signed and sealed with oil, and finally nourished by the reception of his flesh and blood as real food and drink. Jesus says: “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have life within you.” We are in communion with the risen Christ at Mass, not just spiritually but bodily.
With so great a mystery before us, and so great a challenge to glorify God in our bodies, we rejoice at Easter in what God has done for us, body and soul. To him be the glory in Christ Jesus, risen in the flesh. Amen. Alleluia.