Christians take the incarnation very seriously. Not just as something that happened to Jesus Christ — “the Word was made flesh” (Jn 1:14) — but as a reality that affects all of us profoundly even now: who we are and our eternal destiny. It is something that defines and shapes our humanity — every aspect of it, body, mind and soul.

The incarnation is the foundational mystery of our faith. God does not just “assume” the appearances of humanity, but irreversibly unites a human nature to divinity itself, to the second divine person of the Most Holy Trinity.

Revealed to us as the co-eternal Word of God, this divine person became truly man without the loss of divinity. To put it another way, from the instant that

Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God became man without losing the nature or any aspect of divinity.

It goes further than that. When Jesus Christ — true God and true man — died, He also remained true God and true man. He did not lose His humanity.The temporary separation of His mortal body from His human soul did not separate His humanity from His divinity.

This may not be easy to understand, but it is key to our faith in what will happen to us when we die.

After Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday, He rose in such a way that His body, now glorified, was visible to eyewitnesses — so we also believe that, although we die, we will rise in God’s good time and be united, body and soul, to live forever.

The point is that, after the resurrection, Jesus Christ did not shed His human nature and revert to existence as the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Were that the case, it would mean, in effect, that Jesus Christ did not actually rise — that His reality ended at the moment of His death.

But our faith proclaims that Jesus Christ, the divine person with both a human and divine nature, is risen. This means that the incarnation continues forever, in and beyond history.

The implications of this reality are profound and far-reaching. We know that Jesus Christ made some remarkable claims before His death: for one thing,

He founded a Church; for another, taking bread and wine with the Twelve on the night before He died, He identified Himself with this action: “this is my body; this is my blood.”

In other words, Christ gave us the sacrament of the holy Eucharist, the Mass, as His very self. What is more, the effect of this sacrament of the body and blood of Christ is to make us all members of Christ’s body. We call the Church the “mystical body of Christ.”

One reason the Mass is so important is that it is the central action in which the Church celebrates her identity as the mystical body of Christ. We who eat the body of Christ and drink His blood are incorporated into Him who now lives in us as members of His own body.

Since we are intimately united with Jesus Christ through our faith — as we celebrate it in the Mass — then we are called to holiness: to live, as it were, holistically.

Jesus invites us to remain in Him, as He remains in us: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (Jn 15:7). Jesus wants His works to continue in us as His mystical body on Earth. He tells us we will do the works He does and even greater works still (cf. Jn 14:12).

Because He lives in us, in our bodies, the great effects of His work in history are not finished.

Any action that defiles, debases or degrades our own bodies is an act of desecration of the body of Jesus Christ. Our faith in God incarnate, therefore, has profound consequences for how we live our lives in this world, how we care for our own bodies, how we treat the bodies of others and how we take care of all God’s creation, the world in which we live.

We do not see the “body” as separate from the “spirit.” We are incarnate spirits, united inseparably. We cannot say that “I am doing something with my body, but not with my soul.” Everything we do affects the whole person.

Thus, lying, stealing, fornicating, taking drugs and any other form of physical abuse are sins against ourselves, our neighbor and the body of Christ. It matters, therefore, what we do (or do not do) with and in our bodies. All sin is sacrilege.     

It follows that, if we are to be the body of Christ on Earth, as Jesus constitutes us to be, then each of us must respect the dignity and sacredness of our own bodies and the body of every human being. We treat one another as we treat Christ Himself.

Already, we can begin to imagine how this central truth of our faith will affect the decisions we make — for ourselves and involving others, especially when life is most vulnerable.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)