“Torture may be considered a kind of perverse liturgy, for in torture the body of the victim is the ritual site where the state’s power is manifested in its most awesome form.” – William T. Cavanaugh, Torture and Eucharist
The government memos released last week, detailing acts of torture carried out by C.I.A. operatives in the Bush administration, make for interesting reading in light of the gospel narratives’ about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to his disciples. That human bodies matter is a central truth of the Easter proclamation.
But this is less than obvious in an age when Christians more often associate Easter’s meaning with “the immortality of the soul” than with “the resurrection of the body.” When we spiritualize Easter—when we imagine disembodied souls reuniting with loved ones in heaven—we miss this point about bodies and we also, as Tom Wright has observed, “cut the nerve of the social, cultural and political critique.”
Resurrection is about the undoing of death and of all our death-dealing ways. But if our deepest Easter metaphors have mostly to do with butterflies, we will miss this. The undoing of death that Easter accomplishes creates a people who do not flinch from the tortured body of Jesus, but who also know that the marks of violence carried in his broken body are now signs by which we claim resurrection as a counter politics to state-sponsored violence that denies the dignity of any human body anywhere.
We know this most fully in the Eucharist. When we consume Christ’s broken body we become it. We enact a politics—a way of being in the world—rooted in witness, in suffering. Eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table become acts of resistance against any false power that would diminish the humanity of other eating and drinking bodies.
Where torture as liturgy is a kind of “scripting of bodies into a drama of fear” (Cavanaugh), the liturgy of the Table is the creation of a body which lives by hope and loves by a power not of its own making.
When Jesus stands among the disciples and declares peace to them (Luke 24:36b), he gives voice to what his resurrection has already accomplished: the end of violence and the undoing of death. And when he goes on to talk about flesh and bones, hands and feet, and to eat a piece of broiled fish, we see how we can never again talk about resurrection apart from bodies—our own; the violated bodies of torture victims; Jesus’ raised body; and his body, the church—sign, servant, and foretaste of the peace he has made possible.
And we give thanks that we “are witnesses of these things” (24:48).