Thursday, May 24, 2012

'the Resurrection of the Body'

Easter is a time when we marvel at the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  One of the most reliably documented and established facts of history, the miracle of life returning to the crucified, dead and buried body of Jesus is not just an astonishing phenomenon in itself, but a source of great comfort to all believers.   This is because of the connection between Jesus’ bodily resurrection and our own.

‘Because I live, you will live also’, Jesus promised (John 14.19).  And His apostle, St. Paul, in his writings explains how this affects us, even after physical death.
Writing to the Corinthians, St. Paul said, ‘in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ’  (1 Corinthians 15.20-23).

By calling the resurrection of Jesus the firstfruit of our resurrection, St. Paul taught that since the bodily resurrection of Jesus took place we can expect our own bodily resurrection to follow, for we belong to Him.  The term firstfruit refers to the Old Testament practice of offering to God the ‘firstfruit’ of their crops, a sheaf of grain to represent and anticipate the rest of the harvest (Leviticus 23:9-14).

Referring to the sacrament of baptism, that unites all believers to Jesus, St. Paul’s assertion was this:  ‘For if (through baptism) we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’ (Romans 6:5).

St. John’s reasoning is similar: ‘Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is’  (1 John 3.2).

In the Apostles’ Creed, when we confess our faith ‘in the resurrection of the body’, it is the belief in the future of our own bodies to which we refer.
This resurrection of (every)body is promised on the last Day – the Judgment Day.  Both those who are banished to hell on that day and those who will spend eternity in Heaven receive their bodies back.  Although their bodies may have been reduced to dust after centuries of decomposition, the Bible says,  ‘those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt’  (Daniel 12.2).

A resurrection of human bodies is not, strictly speaking, necessary.  God’s angels have a complete existence without bodies.  Also, in Luke 16,  Jesus revealed that the souls of the dead even have sensations without bodies. Nevertheless, a bodily existence is what God designed human beings to have, and have them we shall.

If the judgment Day occurs during our earthly lives we will not need a bodily resurrection, but we will need to be changed and God will change us to be like the resurrected Jesus. ‘Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,  in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

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