Wesley Hill wrote a great column for Christianity Today about a topic I think about often: how we say goodbye, and why our bodies matter in that.
Christians believe not only in a future bodily resurrection. We also believe in the importance of our bodily lives now, with all the benefits that physical companionship entails. Food prepared and eaten together, eye contact initiated and sustained, hands clasped in prayer, shoulders and backs offered when a neighbor’s furniture needs to be moved—all these things and more are gifts that can be exchanged only when we are with each other. Paul recognized this when he wrote from Corinth to the church he had founded in Thessalonica: “As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face” (1 Thess. 2:17, NRSV).
Avoiding goodbye when we have to move and face the prospect, in some cases, of never seeing each other again in this life denies the importance of our bodily life together. Brushing over “farewell” denies that the pain of separation is real—that no matter how many texts or phone calls or Facebook updates we share, we won’t be available for each other in the same way anymore.
One Christian who understood this better than most was pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Separated from his friends and family when he was arrested during World War II, Bonhoeffer wrote, “[T]here is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply persevere and endure it.”