True God and True Man
My lenten devotional posed a simple question for Easter. Why did Christ not stay in the grave? The simple answer was that God could not die, but in Christ's true dual nature His humanly body and soul could taste death, while His Godly nature would not let that death be permanent. Here in lies a fundamental aspect of our trinitarian God, our faith, and through it, ourselves.
Heretics both ancient and modern, have claimed falsehoods about Christ's nature. The Nestorians said He had two separate and unrelated human and divine natures. The Arians claimed that he was not God at all, but merely and enlightened man or prophet. The Docetists claim that he was solely God with only the appearance of man.
None of these positions can reconcile both the death and resurrection of the Lord. For if He were only man as the Arians claimed, He would still be in the tomb. His death and descent to hell would have been permanent. No mere mortal could escape those bonds. Without the resurrection, as Paul reminds us, our faith is in vain.
Were Christ exclusively God as the Docetists claimed, he could not have died, and therefore we would not have been truly redeemed. God has always possessed dominion and victory over all creation. Jesus's victory over death in this scenario would have represented mere repetition. Without human death and resurrection, man's relationship to death would be no different than at the time of Adam's fall. We could hope that the Father in His benevolence might choose to look at us merely as pardoned criminals. However, we couldn’t trust that he would see us in the light of His chastised, risen, and perfect Son.
Were He of two separate and unbound human and divine natures as claimed by the Nestorians, we would be left with an inconsequential combination of the previous scenarios. His body would have remained in the tomb with his human soul tormented in hell. Only His godly spirit would move through heaven and earth as a vapor. The triumph over Satan, sin, and death would be incomplete, belonging not to man, but exclusively to God who has not need for such a victory.
Created in His image, we can hope to share in His destiny. Outside of Christ, we can expect only death and decay for our body and soul separate from our creator. With Christ and His dual nature within us, we can be confident not only in the ascent of our souls but in the resurrection of the body on the last day.
From the time of the ascension until the second coming, Christ comes to us on the alter in His daily sacrifice instituted at the last supper. Those who think the communion feast is only a remembrance misunderstand the words of eternal life when Jesus taught, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you shall not have life within you.” On a certain level this is understandable because we know that this teaching in hard, and we may wonder who can accept it.
Those believing He is present at the alter only in spirit in or around the bread and wine forget His dual nature. They forget that he died, rose, and will return as true God and true man. They unwittingly echo the sentiments of the Nestorians by thinking that Christ's spirit moves outside of and separate from His human flesh. They fail to understand that when he is found on earth today, it is on the alter also in body and divinity, true flesh and true God.
Were Christ to move among us simply in spirit, it would render needless the third person of the Trinity. Christ gives us the Holy Spirit, the blessed advocate to live in our hearts. Doubtlessly the Spirit can sheppard those souls who seek the reconciliation with Jesus only through belief and spirit. We need look no further than the first few days after the resurrection for evidence. Were not the apostles hearts burning as they walked with the mysterious stranger on the way to Emmaus? Yet, as my priest at my childhood parish so often reminded us, they did not recognize in his fullness until the breaking of the bread.
To have Christ truly live with our hearts, we need remember His true nature. From the moment of His conception and incarnation by the power of the Holy Spirit, to His gestation in Mary's womb, at the Nativity, during His growth as a child, throughout His ministry, in His crucifixion, death, decent, resurrection, and in His ascension, He lived in body and spirit as God and man. The tomb is empty today as it will be on the last day when Jesus returns. To find Him today, we need to look for Him in His true nature. We will find Him in body and blood true God and true man in the sacrificial sacrament He commissioned on the night he was betrayed.