Media coverage of Catholic events inevitably brings up some howlers. I remember one commentator who wrote solemnly about the Pope’s “crow’s ear”–the staff with the crook at the top that he carries everywhere. This weekend’s visit to the Holy Land had me gasping when someone on NPR said about the church of the Holy Sepulchre, “This is the site where many Christians believe Jesus Christ is buried.”
All the more moving then, to see the picture of the Holy Father and Patriarch Bartholomew kneeling to kiss the stone of anointing. Despite our differences, this is the fact that unites all true Christians–the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Kissing the stone makes physical the act of devotion, and within this act of devotion–as hard as a stone slab and as tender as a kiss–the truth and beauty of the resurrection is revealed.
For the resurrection itself is as hard and factual and real as a slab of stone. We do not believe in some spiritualized resurrection in which “In some sort of way the teachings of Jesus continued to live among his devoted followers.” No. Resurrection, but it’s very nature is a physical and historical reality. Saying you believe in the resurrection but not in a crudely physical way is rather like saying you believe in marriage, but that you wouldn’t want to actually make love to your wife. “Oh yes, I believe that marriage is a beautiful idea, but we never sleep together!” That is not a marriage. That is playing house. Likewise a spiritualized resurrection isn’t Christianity. It’s playing at Christianity.
So give me the kissing of stones, the veneration of relics and the lighting of lamps. Give me the processions with statues, the wearing of vestments, the dripping of wax and the physicality of fasting. I want my religion to be physical for Christ the Lord was physical and his resurrection was physical. Furthermore, I want my own tired, sad and drooping body to share in that physical resurrection.
Therefore I smile and sigh and weep to see these two old men kneeling together and overcoming –even if only for a moment–the bitter divisions and sour debates. So I realize that my brothers and sisters who truly believe in the resurrection kneel with me and share with me the unity of faith.
The only ones excluded are those who dispute this one fact that changed history–those who deny the physical resurrection also deny eternal life.
I want to accept it all with the hard reality of kneeling before that truth as hard as stone and kissing it not only with my lips, but with my heart.