One of the most fascinating books I’ve read recently is The Body by Bill Bryson. It is full of facts, stories, and questions about the physical stuff that is so essential to who you are. For example, according to the British Royal Society of Chemistry, our bodies consist of 59 elements. Six of these account for 99.1% of us – carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus.
Some of the numbers about our bodies are staggering and almost impossible to fully appreciate. Bryson notes that our bodies make about 1 million red blood cells a second. These cells will move around our bodies about 150,000 times, delivering oxygen to our cells, until, battered and useless, they will quietly be killed off. It takes 7 billion billion BILLION atoms to make a person. The airways within our lungs would stretch nearly from coast to coast. The full length of all of our blood vessels would wrap around the earth 2 1/2 times. And we’re just getting started.
If all the DNA in our body were lined up, they would form a strand that would stretch 10 billion miles, which would reach beyond the (dwarf) planet Pluto. The nucleus of each cell contains 3 feet of DNA. Tiny cells can hold so much DNA because our DNA is way tinier. It would take 20 billion strands of DNA laid side-by-side to make the width of even the finest human hair. No matter how you slice us, there’s a lot of us inside!
All of this information comes in just the first six pages of Bryson’s book – and there are more than 400 pages of this amazing stuff. Reading Bryson, it’s hard not think of Psalm 139.14 – that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Our bodies are truly incredible – in the truest sense of the word.
Bryson’s insight reminds me of something else – something I think we often overlook in the Church: our bodies are essential to what it means to be human. We are not spirits trapped in flesh, waiting to be released. Our hope after death isn’t that we will finally be rid of this shell of blood and cells and DNA. No, our bodies are the very means by which we live – and will be at the core of our resurrection identity. Our hope isn’t to be free of our bodies, but to be free of our sinful bodies. Our promise is not that they will be discarded, but transformed.
Of all weeks, Holy Week is a reminder of this truth. Good Friday is all about Jesus dying, bearing in his body our sin. And Easter is all about the resurrection of that body, the first fruits of the defeat of sin and its effects in our bodies. As Romans 6 points out, through baptism we die to sin – and we raise to new life. “For if we have been united with his in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6.5, RSV) – a resurrection, as the Gospels make clear, where Jesus was very much a risen body, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion. For after Jesus was raised from the dead, he was still very much Jesus – down to the marks on his hands. At the same time, the risen Jesus wasn’t limited by the same things we are. He walked through closed doors.
A great mystery, indeed – but also a great truth! This amazing body we walk around in now is a part of God’s total redemptive work. Through Jesus, we don’t just have our minds renewed or our hearts touched or our souls saved; we also have our bodies redeemed. So that these bodies, which are pretty amazing now, are just a seed of what they will be. For we have a God who made us, and will one day raise us – complete, whole, perfect – spirit, mind, soul, and body.