As Jesus confronts the death of his friend Lazarus, he declares, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25 ESV). A significant part of what our Lord means is that death does not have the final say over life. Indeed, there is life after death. And that idea leads us to a helpful reminder: our bodies are important. At the resurrection, we will continue in an embodied life. To be sure, Paul tells us that our bodies will be changed (cf. 1 Corinthians 15), but they are still our bodies. With that said, it’s worth reflecting on the importance of the body for a bit.
Now, the importance of the body does not begin with the resurrection hope. When God pronounced all things good at the end of the creation week, he did not exclude our bodies. To be sure, our bodies are now suffering from the Fall, subjected to futility for the time being, but the sin of Adam did not roll back God’s assessment of materiality as something good.
This point is reinforced when God took on a body at the incarnation, highlighting his own approval of our material reality by sharing in the same flesh and blood that he would redeem. Christopher Watkin comments on the impact of John 1:14 (And the Word became flesh) on the importance of the body when he reminds us that “the word translated “flesh” in most modern English Bibles is the Greek sarx. Its semantic range includes meat. … It is almost certainly going too far to translate [John 1:14] as “the Word became meat,” but such a provocative rendering does make the point that the word sarx can be used for both human and animal flesh. He did not become a ghost; he became a human being with a body like yours and mine.” Thus, the body is important enough to God that he would share in it for us and for our salvation.
We should also note that when the Word became flesh he did not take on a body that would have wowed the crowds with his physique. He was not a professional body builder. He very well may have been unimpressive in the form and majesty of his body (cf. Isa 53:2). The body is important, but beyond remaining healthy, there is no pressure from God to look a certain way. That, I hope, can be a balm to anyone who is struggling with perceptions of his or her body. Are you unimpressed with your body? Your Lord’s body was unimpressive, and yet that was not concerning to him.
But beyond the cognitive dissonance that arises when we entertain the world’s unrealistic ideals for the body, which Christ answers in the incarnation,
there is the more ubiquitous and more insidious disembodied dimension of cyberspace that tempts us with the unlimited possibilities of an existence outside all physical constraints, in which we can be anywhere (even two or more places at once), see anything and do anything, existing in a supposedly ideal “Meta” reality apart from material reality and apart from our bodies. The body is a handbrake on human ambition, a dirty ore from which the pure metal of the spirit must be smelted. As the incarnate Christ descends to take on human flesh, it is as if we pass him on the way up, scrambling and straining to leave our own miserable bodies behind. …
There is a delicious and pathos-inducing irony to this late-modern striving: “While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human.” Whereas modernity is embarrassed and frustrated by the body, the Bible embraces our corporeal existence from head to toe and brings a message of healing and hope to late moderns who want to damage or to deify their bodies: a message of comfort and confidence to anyone unhappy in their own skin.
That message includes this declaration by Jesus that he is the resurrection and the life. Life is not an abstract idea, for the fullness of life includes the resurrection of the body. If the body were not important, then Jesus likely would not have taken the trouble to raise Lazarus and, according to many other religions, “imprison” him once again in his body. But the body is important, and our Lord intends for us to care for our bodies. May we then care for what God cares for.