37 – The Resurrection of the Body

I believe in The Resurrection of the Body

Luke 24:36-43, Matthew 28:1-20, I Corinthians 15:3-8, Phil 3:21

 1.   The Resurrection of the Body of Jesus

There has been a debate within the Christian Church that has gone on throughout the last two centuries.  It has to do with the resurrection of Jesus.   There are some that have said the resurrection was not a physical resurrection, but a spiritual one.  It was the resurrection of faith, the resurrection of hope, the resurrection of the Church.

Others have insisted that it was all of that, but it was also the resurrection of the actual Body of Jesus in a real physical resurrection.  Let us take a few moments to explore the matter

The Physical Resurrection

On the one side of this debate there are those who insist that the resurrected body of Jesus was real and physical and are ready to insist that it was the very same body he had before his crucifixion.  The evidence they give is that the tomb was empty.  The body was not there anymore, because Jesus was physically raised from the dead, and left behind an empty tomb.

The second piece of evidence is that when the disciples presumed him to be a ghost, Jesus asks the disciples to touch him.  Then He asks for some food.  They give him some broiled fish and he eats. The presumption is that ghosts are not physical and do not eat.  Jesus is saying, “I am not a figment of your faith.”

The third piece of evidence it was Jesus himself in the flesh, is that the wounds he received on the cross are still there in hands and feet and side.  He invites Thomas to put his fingers into the still open wounds.  All of that insists that He was raised in reality.

The Transformed body 

There is of course the other side to this debate.  There are other facts about the resurrection that need to be brought out.  When Jesus appears he is often unrecognizable.  Mary thinks he is the gardener.  The two travelers on the Emmaus Road walk with Him, and listen to Him and sit down with him at the table and do not recognize him until he chooses to reveal himself.  When he appears on the beach to Peter & his friends he is not easily recognized.   He is different than they remember. In fact there is something unrecognizable about him.

There is another unusual aspect of his resurrection.  He can up and vanish in a moment into thin air.  He is breaking bread with the two travelers, and the next moment, “puff!” he’s gone.  There are times when the disciples are behind locked doors, and suddenly he is standing in the middle of the group and they are startled. He seems to drop in and out of visibility like he is being teleported in a Star Trek scenario.  As far as we know this was never the activity of Jesus before his crucifixion.  He does seem to be a bit unreal.

There is an additional strange feature about these accounts.  We know that the wounds are there. In his hands, feet and side. But they do not seem to bother him. He can walk on wounded feet days after his crucifixion.  He doesn’t come limping into the rooms saying, “ouch, oh ouch, oh, ohhhhh.”  There seems to be no pain from the terrible ordeal.  That’s not quite normal.  That’s why some think the resurrection was spiritual, not physical.

The Truth about both

Some of us think the debate is a silly one.  My very feeble mind says they are both right. Jesus was the same before and after the resurrection, but he was different too.  He was Jesus transformed, transfigured, resurrected, but not simply resuscitated.  He wasn’t simply brought back to life, he was glorified and what had been mortal was now made immortal.  The length of His life was not merely extended; the nature of His life was raised to the Nth degree.  Jesus now had life without limits. At Bethlehem he put on our mortality, in the resurrection he put on immortality.  He was Jesus still, but now transposed into a higher key.

2.         I believe in the resurrection of our bodies

But the Apostles’ Creed, that ancient summary of the Church’s essential beliefs, after declaring “The third day He rose again from the dead” goes on to say, “I Believe in the Resurrection of the body.”  And this time it is not talking about the resurrection of the body of Jesus but our bodies.

This line in the creed tells us that our bodies are to be raised after death.  And many of us are not sure at all that that it is possible or that it is good news.  Some of us have had life long trouble with our bodies.  We wrestle with weight difficulties, allergies, illnesses, handicaps, aging and accident.  To have our bodies for eternity hardly sounds comforting.

But let us look more carefully at the meaning behind the words.  The creed was originally written to confront ideas that were prevalent in the first two centuries of the Christian era.  Every culture has had its ideas about death and dying and what takes place after death.  Let me note a few of the more popular options that the church had to confront in its earlier days.

Greek Thought.

Much of Greek thought said, “The body is a tomb of the spirit.”  The body is a house of detention in which the soul is imprisoned.  Our poor souls spend their entire life shackled to a corpse, but when we die we slough off our bodies, get rid of them like garbage left behind in the grave, and we are free.  Our spirits then are raised to the life above.   The Greeks said, “Thank goodness we don’t have to take our bodies with us!”

The Gnostics 

During the second century there was a rather strange movement called Gnosticism.  It was an attempt to merge Christian thought with Greek philosophy. They said, “spirit is good, matter is evil.”  The body is evil.  Sin takes place because of our bodies with their appetites and drives.   In fact they said that God did not create matter nor our bodies, but all things material were made by some demigod, some lesser deity.  So when we come to death the evil body is jettisoned, and our souls escape the corruption of our bodies and we return to spiritual existence as disembodied souls. The Gnostics said “Thank goodness we don’t have to take our bodies with us!”

The Stoics

As part of the Greek world there was another philosophy that arose out of Greek thinking.  It was called Stoicism. They said that there is a divine spark in every one of us.  When we die it returns to God to be absorbed into the divine, just like a drop of water is absorbed into the ocean.   Our bodies die and dissolve, never to be regained, but the divine spark that gave us life is swallowed up in God’s infinity.  We lose all personal identity; we cease to exist as persons, but our divine sparks become part of the eternal and in God we exist forever.  The Stoics too exclaimed, “Thank goodness we don’t have to take our bodies with us!”

Judaism.

But misconceptions of death and what lay beyond was not limited to the Greek world.  A good part of Judaism was either misinformed or uninformed.  Throughout the Old Testament little was said about life after death.  Whatever the Old Testament said was at best only hints. The ancient scriptures dropped only intimations of immortality and life beyond death, but nothing more.  In the days of Jesus the Sadducees declared that there is no resurrection of the dead.  When you are dead, you are dead.  The only way we survive death is through our children and our grandchildren’s memory of us.  I personally am annihilated, I personally cease to exist, but my life is passed on in my offspring.  But death is the end of personal existence.  “There is no resurrection of my body or my soul,” they said.

The Christian Church, however, had reason to hold a very different view.  They had been encountered by the resurrected Christ.  They knew beyond all doubting that one man had been raised from the dead.   Raised in power, and raised in glory!  They had seen the prototype of their own eventual resurrection. They knew that there was a link between his resurrection and their own.  “As he was raised”, they said, “We too shall be raised.”   Listen to the Apostle Paul as he speaks to the church in Corinth.

“Someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of a body do they come?” Paul retorts, “Don’t be foolish…. We do not sow the body that is to be, but the bare seed… and God gives it a body as he has chosen… What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.  It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body… Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, (that is Adam) we will also bear the image of the man of heaven, (who is Christ.)” (I Corinthians 15)

Our resurrection will be like His.  His resurrection is the prototype of our resurrection.  But what does that mean?

Death is never the last word: there is a Resurrection.

Death may be no friend, but neither is death the unconquerable foe.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the declaration to the church that though we all face death, its sting has been drawn. Its finality has been curbed.  The grave is not a dead-end street. It is no cul-de-sac. It is merely a rite of passage to a life beyond that is everlasting.

The pain of the old hurts will be finally gone

The pain of the old hurts will be finally gone.  As Jesus walked easily on wounded feet, being healed of that pain endured during his passion, we too shall find healing for those hurts that have plagued our bodies, our memories and our spirits.  Some of us have hurt for a lifetime and the scars have stayed sensitive for decades.  On the day of our resurrection we shall be whole, we shall be healed, we shall be without pain.  Oh, the marks where the pain was inflicted may still be there, but the ache will be gone.  A memory may be the only souvenir of those ancient hurts.  The memory may remain to furnish one more reason to offer eternal praise to God for the redemption of our lives.

The Book of the Revelation speaks of a tree with 12 manner of fruit, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  But this healing is not simply one for healing the breaches between warring races and nations.   The resurrection of our lives promises us a healing of each person from every nation.  The stings from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” will be all gone in the moment of our resurrection.

Life is not merely everlasting, but is Resurrected Life

But why do we need the healing?  Life that is everlasting could be a terrible curse. I have spent enough time with the very elderly and the permanently damaged to know that life can get to be a terrible burden.  Life that is lived forever is no boon.  It can be the thing that horror stories are written about. To live forever while energies and appetites diminish year by year, is no gift, but a curse.

When God banned the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, it was not an act of divine petulance, but a deed of mercy.  To have sinned, and then to live forever would be a terrible thing.  Death may not only have been a penalty for sin but also a “severe mercy”.

But the church has not simply asserted that it believes in life that is everlasting.  It insists on the right order.  The gift of everlasting life follows our resurrection.   Life is not merely to be continued, it is to be transposed.  Paul says, “We may not all die, but we shall all be changed.”  We shall not simply be transported to heaven just as we are, but we shall be transformed, made fit for the new life in heaven.

All that a person is, is to be redeemed.

But I need to speak about the difficult word. ” I believe in the resurrection of the body“. Actually the original language says, “I believe in the resurrection of the flesh.”  Even more difficult to believe. But this line says something marvelous.

Our bodies are not evil. Our drives and appetites are not evil.  God made us and God does not make garbage.  All that we are shall be raised.  We will not be disembodied selves.  The real you and I will live on.  All that we are is to be redeemed, not simply discarded.

But how?  Who can tell? But Paul gives us the analogy, what is raised is not quite what was planted. (I Cor. 15:35-38, 42-43)  But, what is raised is not less than what was interred.  We plant an acorn and get an oak tree. We shall plant mortality and are raised immortal. And all that we were will be a part of that new wholeness.  Not one bit of me will be wasted in the transformation; not my body, not my memory, not my experiences, but the real me will be caught up in the resurrection.

But will I take my scarring with me, the results of living life here?  We would like to cast off everything that has hindered, harassed and hampered us.  But it may not be so.  It may be that evidences of our difficulties shall remain, but they too shall be transmuted to something far more glorious.  The nail prints in the hands of our saviour are no longer marks of shame, but rather, the trophies of his triumph!

The story is told of John Ruskin the 19th century artist.  He was at an evening soiree when a gasp was heard from across the room. A young lady had dropped a blot of ink on a beautiful lace handkerchief.  It was indelible ink and the handkerchief was ruined.  She was in tears.  Ruskin went over to her, retrieved the handkerchief and placed it in his pocket and gave her words of reassurance that he would try to fix it for her.  A few days later he returned the handkerchief.  She looked at it with a gasp of joy and amazement.  Ruskin had not taken out the indelible blot. It was irremovable.  But taking his artist’s pen he had begun with that blot and had incorporated it to become the centre of a new design.  The handkerchief had become a work of art, a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

I am not sure that God will remove every semblance of our old and ancient hurts, but he will take his pen, and weave around it grace and beauty and the blots of our lives will no longer hurt, but be the sources of fresh praise to God.  Like the oyster, God may take the irritants and the deep hurts of our lives, and spin around the painful things a pearl of translucent beauty.

Finally, we shall not be different than we are, just different.

That sounds like gobbeldy gook words.  But they are not.  We shall not be different, that is, not other than we are.  We shall not be swallowed up in some cosmic energy to lose our personality and ourselves.  We will not be swallowed up in God as a drop is absorbed into the ocean.  We shall still be ourselves, but we will be changed, enhanced, grown up.  Case in point:  I am still the same person I was when I was 5 years of age, and 15 years of age, and 25 years of age.  I am the same person, but different as I hit 73 this fall.  And when I am raised in the resurrection, it will still be me.

And I suspect that you and I will be a bit unrecognizable too at first, like Jesus was.  There will be a glory about each one of us, which was not quite there while we were still part of this mortal race.   There will be a brightness of face and a fullness of life that will not be normal.  But if you were to look closer, you would still see the face of the child in the new adult.  You would still see the vestiges of what we had been, in the persons who are now transfigured.

The story comes from Cecil B. DeMille, the man who, a generation ago, made so many of the Biblical stories into blockbuster movies such as “The Ten Commandments.”  Shortly before his death, while on vacation from Hollywood at his cottage in Maine, DeMille wrote the following.

“One day as I was lying in a canoe, a big black beetle came out of the water and climbed into the canoe. It crawled up onto one of the gunnels. I watched it idly for some time. Under the heat of the sun, the beetle seemed to die.  Then a strange thing happened.  His glistening black shell cracked all the way down his back. Out of it came a shapeless mass, that was quickly transformed into beautiful, brilliant, coloured life.  As I watched in fascination, there gradually unfolded iridescent wings from which the sunlight flashed a thousand colours.  The wings spread wide, as if in worship of the sun. The blue green body took shape.  Before my eyes there occurred a metamorphosis_ the transformation of a hideous beetle into a gorgeous dragonfly, which started dipping and flying over the water. I had witnessed what seemed to me a miracle.  Out of death had come a beautiful new life.   And the thought came to me,” continued DeMille,” that if the Creator works such wonders with the lowliest of creatures, what must there yet be in store for us?

What I am, will in some way be with me forever. The beetle that crawls around on 6 legs is real.  The dragonfly that comes from the caterpillar is just as real, just as substantial.  The Beetle & the Dragonfly is the same creature, but different.  One appears insignificant and the other majestic.  But they are both just as real as the other.  In fact they are the same creature.  The difference is a change has taken place and something unfathomably more beautiful has resulted.

I shall be the same person, with all that I have been still intact, but I will be different because all that was in me, in embryo, will be full grown at last.  Listen to the words of St. John’s first letter,

Beloved, we are God’s children now.
What we will be has not yet been fully revealed. 
What we do know is this,
When he is revealed, we will be like him,
for we will see him as he is.” (I John 3:1)

For that reason the church includes within its creed an affirmation of exhilaration. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  All that I am, I take with me, but I shall be more than I ever dreamed of being, because there is a resurrection!  How is all that possible? All because “On the third day he rose again from the dead.”

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