These are my thoughts and reflections having heard PaulaGooder’s talk about her book “Resurrection: The Body and Christianity” at StPaul’s on 16/6/16 and following the #fullaccesschurch tweets from the Disability and Jesus conference on 11/6/16.
People think that everything we don’t like now about our bodies will be gone when we are resurrected; and yet we will look like we do now and be completely recognisable to our loved ones. But there’s no evidence of this in the Bible; the gospel accounts show that the disciples didn’t recognise Jesus – therefore his body was obviously different; and yet Jesus was still able to show the holes in his hands and feet and therefore the things that disabled Him stayed in his resurrected life. What a challenge. Our disabled elements of our body will be a part of us but in a different form when we are resurrected. A perishable body will be buried (planted like a seed) and a body of power will be resurrected (as a fresh shoot of a plant). And this shoot will keep growing and building and gaining power as our resurrected lives continue; we will be gaining abilities and losing our disabilities.
This terrifies me; in fact I had to stop reading the twitter stream from #fullaccesschurch when someone tweeted that we will still have to use a wheelchair in heaven. But I am reminded that it is so much less about our bodies and so much more about the context in which we find ourselves. It is not our bodies which are disabled in this world so much as the world which disables us by not accommodating us; and the Bible tells us that the resurrection world will be a place which enables us as we are and ensures that we can fulfil our callings in all their fullness as God has planned.
Two main chains of thought come from this.
1. If I will be resurrected as a disabled person with MS, which by the end of my life is likely to be pretty disabled; then I will be resurrected with a broken body and yet will be full of power. I cannot imagine how it will be; but what I am hearing is that I will leave a world where my disability and disease is reducing me; to a resurrected life where it is the basis for my life which will be healed and empowered and rejuvenated. If this is possible then I start to think about who I am; which is a body but which is not JUST the body but also the mind and soul and heart. My mind and soul and heart are not being reduced or disabled, in fact I think they are being rejuvenated through the suffering of my body. I am able to be more reflective, more understanding, more able to empathise and more able to think without distraction. This of course may not have been the case in generations gone by when being disabled would completely limit a person; but thanks to technology and society and my own stubbornness and the blessings of Jesus I am able to continue to live a life of relationship and thought and exploration and ministry.
2. If I will be resurrected blind and unable to walk and possible extremely weak then it strikes me that I will be resurrected exactly how I was born in my human life. That’s a wow moment. It’s a point of blessing in so many ways. We are all born blind and weak and unable to walk and we learn and build and are nurtured and grow. Suddenly I feel hope and joy with the idea that my resurrected life with God will be a repeat of the life I have already lived but with a parent who is all about making me the entire person He has called and always knew I would become. And because this is a resurrected life this will be beyond all limits; it will be able to peak at some high point which I have never yet experienced. How amazing to be able to realise that.
I guess what is holding central for me is that our resurrection bodies will be resolutions to our problems in this life in ways we can’t start to understand. We may have the attributes which we consider disabling in our world, but they will not disable us.
Another point from both Paula’s talk and the conference which has stayed with me is that how we live in our body affects who we are. In 1 Corinthians 12 (repeated in Romans 12) Paul explains identity and relationships through bodies because these things all happen as and in bodies. What we do with our bodies affects who we are; and therefore what anyone else does to enable or disable us affects who we are. I wonder how Paul would feel about the modern world which disables so many of us so well? And what would he think of the body of the church which disables us? What would he think of a church which has no ramps or automatic doors or low lecterns or has endless series of steps up to altars and pulpits which cannot be accessed by wheelchair users; or no hymn books and service sheets or assistance for the partially sighted; or hearing systems which never work properly for the deaf or worship which terrifies some members whose brains are wired differently? It’s a challenge isn’t it! What would Paul think about a church which disables people? What does God think?
Then there’s the other big thing which most of us who are disabled Christians have encountered; the need to be healed of our disability in order to meet the needs of those who offer it. I believe in healing, and have received healing of my emotions and heart as I get used to living with MS and especially with blindness. But I do not expect that I will be healed physically; it hasn’t happened yet and I can’t help but think that God sees a plan in this for me and that I am called to a ministry which benefits from my disability. And yet Jesus healed people; all over the place he healed. Paula Gooder talks about the fact that Jesus’ healing miracles are about integration of the person into their bodies in order to integrate into their communities. Jesus’ healing was predominantly about healing relationship through the body, rather than about healing the body alone. For example; the woman at the well was healed not so much for the physical aspects as to enable her to join back with her community. Jesus would never imply that bodies cannot be in relationship until they are healed; but He was focused on healing relationships by healing the bodies.
I wonder what Jesus would think of those Christians and Churches who require us to pray more to be healed in order to be the best we can be to meet their need for us to be able? I wonder whether Jesus would be more interested in Christians and Churches healing relationships throughout society than healing the individuals who make the able bodied feel uncomfortable; because I am sure that is a large part of what’s going on. The things that makes our bodies is an integration of heart and soul and body and mind and spirit; a beautiful body working together for and in God. No matter who we are and what our bodies are like we are integrated in ourselves and with God; and in this integrated way we are in relationship with the Body of Christ. It’s all about relationship, rather than about the form of individual bodies. We are all one body and must be inclusive completely.