In the study of sixteenth-and seventeenth-century spirituality entitled The Mystic of the Fable, [the French Jesuit polymath Michel] de Certeau said this: “Christianity was founded upon the loss of a body — the loss of the body of Jesus Christ, compounded with the loss of the ‘body’ of Israel, of a ‘nation’ and its genealogy.” It is, I think, a striking and perceptive image.
It is, in the first place, an image of the empty tomb. “‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him’” (John 20:13). Christianity was founded upon the loss of a body, the body of Jesus Christ. Christians remain, until the end of time, a people in search of a body; in search of the body of the risen Christ; in search of God’s fleshed wisdom, God’s housed holiness, in the world.
Christianity was founded upon the loss of a body. “They have taken away my Lord.” The power of de Certeau’s observation derives from the insistent recognition that the loss, the dislocation, upon which Christianity is founded, is, at one and the same time, the emptiness of a tomb and an interruption in the story of a people. The drama of the story of the early Church is the drama of a people who are no longer quite sure who they are. Children of Abraham? Yes, of course, but — also, something else. People of Israel? Yes, indeed, and yet — not quite, or not quite in the way they were before. Is Israel’s story, Israel’s “genealogy”, still ours? Yes, and yet: our story seems both less than that — a break of some kind has occurred, the faultlines of which are legible throughout the books of the New Testament — and also, in some measure, more. There are no boundaries now, to this new people, this strange nation whose story is declared to be, in principle, the history of every tribe and nation of the earth. To search for the body of the risen Christ is to search for a society which would be the reconciliation, in justice and in peace, of all human kind.
From Nicholas Lash, “In search of a body”, in Seeing in the Dark: University Sermons (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2005), pp. 159-60.