7. The Resurrection of the Body

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

1.         The Resurrection of the body of JESUS

There has been a debate 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, just 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 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.” 

A 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.  When he appears on the beach he is not easily recognized.   He is different than they remember. 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 that soon 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 He was raised spiritually.

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 quantity of His life was not merely extended; the quality 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.

And so the Apostles’ Creed reads “On the 3rd day he rose again from the dead.” 

I believe in the resurrection of OUR bodies

But there is a second line in this creed that also speaks of resurrection.  Hear the Apostles’ Creed again, “I Believe in the Resurrection of the body” but this time it is not talking about the resurrection of the body of Jesus, but our bodies.  The sequence is divine!  Because He was raised, we too shall be raised!

This phrase tells us that our bodies are also to be resurrected after death.  But many of us are not sure at all, that that is possible or that that 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 be stuck with 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.  Some said, when you’re dead you’re dead!  Others said your soul leaves your body and is absorbed into the ocean of divinity and loses all self-identity. Still others said your body gets discarded, but your soul lives on.

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.)”

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

First.               Death is never the last word.  There is a Resurrection.

Death is no friend. But neither is death the unconquerable foe.  The resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the declaration to the church that though we all face death, its sting has been drawn. Its finality has been curbed. The grave is no dead end street. Death is no cul-de-sac. It is merely one of the rites of passage. There is life beyond and life that is everlasting. “Because He lives, we too shall live!”

Second.           Life is not merely everlasting, but is Resurrected Life

But life that is everlasting can be a terrible curse. I have spent enough time with the very elderly 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, as C. S. Lewis says: “a severe mercy.”

But the church has not simply asserted that it believes in life that is everlasting.  It insists on the right order: “I believe in the resurrection of the body and (then) the life everlasting.”  The gift of everlasting life follows our resurrection.  For 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 for the new life in heaven.

Third.             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.  In fact. in Jewish and Christian understanding, a person is not a soul inside a body.  I do not have a body; I am a body. I do not have a soul; I am a soul.  I do not have a spirit; I am a spirit.  That is why Paul can say “I beseech you brethren to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  We are actually a physical-spiritual unit and like a coin, you cannot separate one side from the other.  Part of us shall not go and part stay behind.  All that I am shall be raised.  I am not to be a disembodied self.  The real me will live on.  All that I am is to be redeemed, with nothing 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.  They are connected to each other in nature, but the one far transcends the other.  We shall plant mortality and be raised immortal.  We shall plant corruption and be raised in gloriousness.   But 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 jettison everything that has hindered and hampered us.  But it may not be so.  It may be that evidence of our difficulties and deformities 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 ignominy, but rather, the trophies of his great triumph over death!

John Ruskin the artist was at an evening gathering when a gasp was heard 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 blot. It was irremovable. But taking his artist’s pen he had begun with that blot and had incorporated it into 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 will take the irritant and the deep hurts of our lives and spin around the painful thing a pearl of translucent beauty.

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

That sounds like gobbledy 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.   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 81 this year.  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.   

What I am, will in some way be with me for ever. The caterpillar is real that crawls on the ground.  The Butterfly that comes from the caterpillar will be just as real, just as substantial. Caterpillar and Butterfly are 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 metamorphosis 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 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.”