Gabriel Marcel once said: “To love someone is to say, you at least will never die.” That might sound like romantic wishful thinking, but, in Christian faith, we believe that this is deep insight, an article of faith, a truth of the incarnation.
If we take the incarnation seriously, then to love someone is to say to him or her: “You will never die because, in this life and the next, you will never be separated from the community of life, God’s family, because in accepting my love you are touching the body of Christ just as really as did anyone who touched the historical Jesus. You will never die and you will never go to hell because you are bound to Christ.”
That is an astonishing belief! Few take it seriously.
Ten years ago, I wrote two rather modest articles on this. In these, I pointed out that the incarnation, the mystery of God taking on human flesh, is not a 33-year experiment, a one-shot incursion of God into human history that ended with the ascension of Jesus.
The truth is rather that, as the body of Christ on earth, we can continue to do all the things that Jesus did and, as Jesus himself assures us in John’s Gospel (14:12), we can even do greater things.
Scripture tells us that we are the body of Christ on earth. It does not say that we are like his body, or that we replace his body, or even that we are his mystical body (which wouldn’t be so wrong, if we under stood “mystical” in the deep sense of that word).
No. Our Christian faith informs us that we are the body of Christ—flesh, blood, tangible, visible, physical, available to be touched, and all of this definitely and clearly residing in nameable persons on this earth. We are the ongoing incarnation of God, the anointed ones of God, Christ.
This, as I pointed out in those articles, has some rather incredulous implications. Among them, the following: When Jesus walked around Palestine, people were healed and forgiven, not to mention given eternal life, by touching him, by being touched by him and simply by relating to him.
If we are the ongoing incarnation, and we are, then this is also true for us (and not just in the sense of it happening through the institutional churches, as important as that is).
The mystery of the incarnation is incredibly extensive. It is not just the institutional churches that carry on, carry forth and carry the mystery of God in human flesh. All love that is in grace is the Word made flesh. To touch it is to be touched by Christ; to touch with it is to touch with Christ because it is the ongoing incarnation.
From Augustine through Pius XII, we are told that this is wild doctrine, something beyond our limited imaginations and measured hopes. Nobody dares hope for us as much as God has already given in the incarnation. What are we given there?
The power, literally, to block death and hell. If we love someone, she cannot go to hell because Christ is loving her. If we forgive someone, he is forgiven because Christ is forgiving him.
If children of ours, or anyone else we love, no longer go to church, our love for them and their love for us binds them solidly to the body of Christ. They continue to touch the hem of Christ’s garment as surely as did the woman in the Gospels who suffered with a hemorrhage. Their end result, unless they reject their bond to us, will be like hers, namely, healing.
Every time I have ever written about this, I have received a flood of letters, almost all of which suggest that what I am saying is dead wrong or, at the very least, horribly exaggerated. These letters generally have one of two difficulties with this:
Many people write saying simply: “How can you say this? Only Christ has power to forgive sins, to heal, and to bind people to the community of grace.” That objection is valid enough; except it is Christ who is doing this. We, as St. Paul so clearly assures us, are the body of Christ.
Almost as frequent in people’s response to this is the statement: “I would like to believe this, but it would be too good to be true!”
Part of the difficulty in believing in the incarnation is precisely the fact that it is too good to be true: God is not hidden and hard to contact; forgiveness, grace, and salvation are not the prerogative of the lucky and the few; we don’t have to save ourselves; we don’t have to get our lives perfectly in order to be saved; we don’t have to make amends for our sins; human flesh and this world are not obstacles, but part of the vehicle to heaven; we can help each other on the journey; love, indeed even human love, is stronger than death; and to love someone is indeed to say: “You at least will never die!”