When Christ rose from the dead, His body was the same one that had been cast down in death. Yet it manifests qualities not currently enjoyed by our bodies. It was truly Christ’s same body, with its bones and muscles, but it was also a glorified body, wholly reflective of and subservient to the glory and faculties of His soul. He could appear and disappear at will, be somewhere at one moment and then elsewhere the next, and so forth.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that in order for the resurrection to be a true one, the same body that fell and died now rises and lives. Thomas writes,
That is said to rise, which fell. [So] Christ’s body fell by death … inasmuch as the soul, which was its formal perfection, was separated from it. Hence, in order for it to be a true resurrection, it was necessary for the same body of Christ to be once more united with the same soul (Summa Theologiae III, Q. 51, Art. 1).
But why did the Lord’s soul not shine through perfectly before the resurrection? Why did He suffer fatigue? Why could He not appear and disappear at will? Thomas answers,
Christ’s soul was glorified from the instant of His conception by perfect fruition of the Godhead. But … owing to the Divine economy, the glory did not pass from His soul to His body, in order that by the Passion He might accomplish the mystery of our redemption. Consequently, when this mystery of Christ’s Passion and death was finished, straightway the soul communicated its glory to the risen body in the Resurrection; and so that body was made glorious (ST III, Q. 51, Art. 2).
In rising, Christ takes up His same, true body, but it now also manifests a perfected glory. When our bodies rise on the last day, the same will be true of ours.
But if all this be the case, then why are Christ’s wounds visible in His glorified body? Are not wounds and scars inconsistent with a glorified body? St. Thomas provides five reasons that Christ’s wounds are fitting in His glorified body. His reflections, from the Summa Theologiae III, Q. 54, Art. 4, are beautiful and poignant. St. Thomas’ words are presented below in bold, black italics, while my remarks appear plain red text.
It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.”
These wounds are a dignity not a deformity, a sign of love not of loss, an indication of obedience not of onerousness. Through His wounds the Lord can say, “Here is what the world did to me, and yet I live. Here is the cost of your redemption and the lavishness of my love.”
Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
This is what theologians refer to as “continuity.” The wounds demonstrate that the same body that died on the cross is the same body the disciples now see standing before them. Continuity means that Christ has not taken up or fashioned some new body or a similar body. Christ is truly risen. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means to stand again. The English word resurrection means the same thing: re (again) + surrexit (he stands). None of this would be true if some different body were before them, no matter how similar. Thus Christ’s wounds confirm the truth of the resurrection.
Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
Beautiful! The picture here is of the Son, Jesus, showing His wounds to his Father and saying, “See how I have love them, Father. Have mercy on them.”
Elsewhere, Scripture says, Consequently, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself (Heb 7:25-27).
Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
To those who doubt the Lord’s love or understanding of our trials, Christ’s wounds speak tenderly and clearly of His love and of the price He was willing to pay. His wounds are more eloquent testimony than any words could be. Is God merciful? Does God understand or care at all about our condition? Look to the wounds of Christ; dwell in them. Take shelter in the wounds of Christ.
Lastly, “that in the Judgment Day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Hence, as Augustine says (De Symb. ii): “… So will [Christ] show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.’”
Such powerful and moving words, in this case from St Augustine. There is also an answer here to those who think that God is simply harsh on Judgment Day. In effect He will say, “I endured suffering from you out of love for you. When I was on the Cross, the soldier pierced my side. My heart was literally opened for you and still you would not enter. What more could I have done than to allow your own sins to be your redemption? Still you refused.”
In spite of receiving lifelong graces and unmerited favors and blessings, in spite of God’s call echoing in their depths, many still refuse God’s offer. It is such a tragedy that some hearts are so hardened. The wounds of Christ testify to the justice of God’s only (and final) recourse: to allow them to live apart from Him. Accepting the choice of their free will, God’s last act is simply to recognize their refusal and say, “you would not enter.”
Dwell in the wounds of Christ.