This past week, I read Chapters 7-8 of NT Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope.” In these chapters, Wright focuses on the implications of the Christian doctrine of the bodily resurrection. He points out that since Christ is raised bodily, his Ascension is also bodily. And since all human beings will be raised at the general resurrection, the doctrine of heaven needs to reflect this embodied reality. Wright states, “The method of the kingdom will match the message of the kingdom. The kingdom will come as the church.”
The idea of Jesus ascending to heaven physically and thus, being absent from us physically, is captured in Wright’s discussion of “Parousia.” God is with us now spiritually, but Jesus will return to us bodily. And in the renewal of the cosmos after the general resurrection, Jesus will continue to be physically present.
Wright’s discussion of parousia reminded me of the later passages in Dante’s “La Vita Nuova.” After Beatrice’s death, Dante explains how bereft he is to be separated from her. Then, at the very end of the poem, he speaks of studying so he can be worthy of writing a fitting tribute to her. Dante experiences the absence of Beatrice, and he longs to be reunited with her. In his writing of “The Divine Comedy,” he sees her again. But as he explains in the poem, he needed to undergo a conversion in which his love for Beatrice was replaced with a higher love – the love for God. His longing for Beatrice becomes replaced by a longing for union with God, “The love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
I think Dante is using Beatrice as a metaphor for Christ. Dante is conscious of Beatrice’s physical absence even though he can interact with her through his writings. But he longs to be reunited with her. Wright speaks of how the Church is conscious of Christ’s physical absence and longs to be reunited with him, while simultaneously experiencing his spiritual presence.
Wright closes Chapter Eight with these words, ” There will come a time … when, in the great renewal of the world that Easter itself foreshadowed, Jesus himself will be personally present and will be the agent and model of the transformation that will happen both to the whole world and also to believers. This expectation and hope, expressed so clearly in the New Testament, continues undiminished in the second and subsequent centuries.”
Expectation and hope. These are thought-provoking subjects to reflect on.
This week, I’ll be reading Chapters 9 and 10 in Wright’s book. Also, I hope to schedule a chat next Sunday, April 10th on these Lenten Themes. Stay tuned.
Peace be with you,