Redemption and the Body

I recently attended the funeral of a friend’s father. He had finally succumbed to a disease that over the past few years had completely ravaged his body, making his daily experience of the world one of unbearable pain and drug induced haze. It is not surprising, then, that one of the themes in this funeral was a relief that he was now free from the pain of his body, a gratefulness that he was now finally “at peace.”

And rightly so. Yet, at the same time, this theme of relief sat somewhat uneasily alongside another, namely, the celebration of a life lived deeply and deliberately. We celebrated the life of a man described as “gregarious,” who loved friendship, conversation, motorcycles, and all sorts of music, had a hearty steak and a coke for his last Easter meal, and in his last few months waited every morning to have breakfast with his son. These are all, plainly and irreducibly, bodily actions and experiences. And so, there was a certain tension between this celebration of a profound life of the body and the relief that that body was no longer suffering.

I think that one way to name this tension is to ask, “Where is redemption?” – by which I mean to ask no more than, “Where, in the face of suffering, pain, and loss, is the possibility for our human thriving?” Of course, we believe that ultimate redemption will come with the resurrection of the dead. But I want to propose that if there was a certain redemption in the release of the body from pain in death, then there was also already a certain redemption in that body that fully embraced life in the face of death.

I think that this came through most poignantly in one of the stories I heard at the funeral. Only weeks before his death, this father asked his 16 year old daughter to “come, sit on my lap.” She replied: “Dad, you can’t; it will hurt you too much.” He, however, insisted, and through the agony held his daughter in his lap.

I submit that here we can catch a glimpse of redemption, and, even in its great pain and fragility, this redemption is in the body, its touch and sensation, and nowhere else. Without the body there is not this redemption; we cannot hold ghosts or spirits. Perhaps we can put this point even stronger, saying that without this body there is not this redemption. That is to say, perhaps it is not in spite of, but, in part, because of its vulnerability, fragility, and brokenness that redemption – our thriving – is, finally, found in the body.

We await full redemption at the resurrection. If redemption is tied to our bodily frailty, is it possible that the new resurrected body will also be one of vulnerability and weakness?

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