Beaches, Bikinis, and the Body of Christ
by Lynn Cohick
No, this is not a blog advocating (or decrying) beach evangelism, the butt of many (sometimes well deserved) jokes. This is much more serious, it is musings on what it means to be embodied as believers in Jesus. This past week my sister-in-law was on a panel discussing body image among young women. The epidemic of anorexia and bulimia, the evidence of which is displayed on YouTube and Facebook, reminded me yet again of the need for Christians to affirm our faith in the resurrection of the body.
What does it mean for us today that we will be with this body forever – eternity with ourselves as embodied? The New Testament is shockingly clear that our body will be changed, but yet stay enough the same that we will be who we are but fitted for life on the new earth. I sometimes joke that I’m putting in a order for my new, glorified body, that I’d get a taller one (I’m not quite 5’3", and steadily shrinking). But under that kidding is the conviction that I’m me embodied. I am not a soul encased in a body prison, nor will I exist in heaven as a see-through ghostly being floating around singing choruses (please God not that for eternity). The apostle Paul makes clear that God will make a new earth which will be the believers’ new home. That’s why our bodies matter even now.
Christians rightly confess Christ’s resurrection, and our creeds emphasize the resurrection of the body, not only Christ’s but also those of his followers. Yet we tend to think of resurrection as what happened in the past with Jesus and what will happen in the future to the church. That is not the entire truth. In Eph 2:5-6, we learn that because of Christ’s resurrection, believers are also made alive now with him, and are now raised with him and now seated with him in the heavenlies. Since I am also right now seated in front of my computer, I might be tempted to brush off these claims as lovely rhetorical flourish. But Paul is stating fact here. Believers are now seated with Christ, raised with him because we have been made alive in him. Christ’s resurrection is our resurrection in as much as we now enjoy its benefits (in part, awaiting our own completed resurrection). Some argue that in using the past tense here, the author is moving outside of Paul’s theology, and so we must conclude that Paul did not write Ephesians. That is a topic for another day. However, Paul does speak elsewhere of the results of our salvation being available in Christ today, and uses the past tense to speak of being saved (Rom 8:24) and predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Rom 8:30).
So what can believers offer to those women and men who despise their bodies and starve themselves? Hope that God has redeemed the body of each believer now, for not only are we in Christ, redeemed by the cross, but also we are with Christ the Resurrected One now. Imagining oneself sharing the heavenly sofa, if you will, seated with Christ now might help those who are at war with their bodies. Christ’s death has given each believer a resurrected body which we can celebrate now as we enjoy the benefits of being both in Christ and with Christ.
Lynn H. Cohick (PhD in New Testament/Christian Origins, University of Pennsylvania) is associate professor of New Testament in the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School, Wheaton, IL. Lynn has written Melito of Sardis: Setting, Purpose, and Sources (Brown Judaic Studies, 2000), The New Testament in Antiquity (with Gary Burge and Gene Green) and several articles on women in Early Judaism and earliest Christianity. She and her husband reside in Wheaton, IL.