03 May 2017

Ascension: Exalting the Human Body

t is no coincidence  that the recent decline in the reverence and respect for the human body has coincided with the equally recent decline in the celebration of Our Lord’s Ascension.
Among too many people, these days, the human body is little more than a casing or covering for the real “you.” This real “you” consists, primarily, of one’s thoughts, dreams, loves, emotions, thinking, etc.; in other words, the immaterial aspect of the human. In theology and philosophy, this is what has usually been ascribed to the soul.
With this thinking, what is the role of the body—our material aspect? It becomes something that can be changed, or reconfigured, or ignored, or discarded. In other words, it has little bearing on the real “you,” and so hardly matters.
Historically, those who claimed that body matter doesn’t matter were commonly known as Gnostics. Most often, they believed that the body was something like a prison that housed the real “you” until, at death, you could escape it. And once the soul escaped the body, the body could be burned or cremated because it wasn’t really part of who you are.
Among other things, this thinking denigrates God’s original design of humans—and of all creation. And today’s popular view of the human body does the same thing: it asserts that the body is incidental and inconsequential to your humanity.
By contrast, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord exalts our human nature. Our Lord’s ascension declares that the human body is integral and essential to the real “you.”

Thou hast raised our human nature
On the clouds to God’s right hand:
There we sit in heav’nly places, There with thee in glory stand.
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
Man with God is on the throne;
Mighty Lord, in thine ascension,
We by faith behold our own.

For why else would Our Lord ascend in His body? If His real “you” was the soul—or had little to do with the body—then did He bodily ascend merely as a show? Or so that He could be seen, letting the body then dissolve somewhere in the atmosphere?
If that is true, then Our Lord’s suffering, His death and resurrection, and the wounds He insisted on keeping and showing—these also were part of the show, since they were not vital to who He is.
But by ascending, Our Lord shows us two things: that His physical body is vitally important to His work of redemption; and that our own bodies cannot be disregarded, or divorced from who we truly are.
Furthermore, by ascending Our Lord elevates our human nature (body, as well as soul) far above the dignity of all the creation, above the ranks of angels, above the exalted status of archangels. For in Christ Himself, Our Lord seats our human nature (body and soul) at the right hand of God.
This is possible because, by becoming human, Our Lord interwove our human nature into such a close union with Himself that He redeemed, healed, and revitalized our bodies as well as our souls.
And that is the great revelation of Our Lord’s Ascension. Our bodies matter. And they are gifts from God—to be received, and rejoiced in, and worn with the dignity that Our Lord has bestowed when He, for our salvation, determined to complete His earthly work by exalting the entirety of our human nature.