This month of August is marked by two great feasts; the Feast of the Transfiguration, which we celebrate this Sunday, and the Solemnity of the Assumption, our national feast. You could very rightly argue that the theme that unites these two feasts is the holiness of the body. And that’s a very necessary theme to proclaim in our world where we worship the body; degrade the body; objectify the body; surgically modify the body, but rarely consider it holy.
One of the most ancient heresies, and one that keeps returning again and again like the villain in a bad action series, is the one that says that the body is not truly good, that only the spiritual truly matters. It is one that insidiously infects much of the world even now. The British writer Mary Harrington has described the modern view as the ‘Meat Lego Matrix’ a world view where the body is simply a pleasure vehicle, while any inherent language of the body, any inherent meaning to sex, is dismissed. Where our bodies are just “meat avatars” in a truly virtual world.
In contrast, our faith insists on the great value of the material world and our bodies in particular. To redeem the world God took a human body; to redeem us, body and soul. Both the feast of the Transfiguration and the Assumption can be seen as affirmations of the goodness of the Incarnation and importance of our belief in a bodily resurrection.
In the Transfiguration we see the divinity of Jesus manifested in the radiance of His body, not the escape from it, and the Assumption shows us that He came to save us completely and not just spiritually: Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven. This, surely, is our true hope. Which of us thinking of those we have loved and lost would be content with just the idea of a spiritual reunion? I don’t know about you, but I certainly want hugs!
As Christians we need to imagine what a world might look like where the body was considered holy again, where the body was no longer objectified, no longer mutilated, nor worshipped, but, instead, was once more seen as the sacrament of the human person, the visible manifestation of the human person made in the image and likeness of God. Imagine if we thought of ourselves like that, imagine if we thought of others like that?
In such a world there is no place for pornography, no place for human trafficking. Instead, just as we venerate the relics of saints, we might see holiness in the entire person of the communion of saints we walk amongst. Those who have heard me will know the quote that is coming, from CS Lewis: Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
Properly understood these feasts both teach us that truth and ask us to live it.
Fr Chris Denham