Tuesday, November 6, 2018
I believe in the resurrection of the body. . .
It is a small but important thing that we confess in the baptismal creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” This is an important point. The Nicene Creed says “the resurrection of the dead” but it is narrowed and made more specific by the Apostles’ Creed where this resurrection of the dead is rendered with unmistakable clarity. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”
The first Christians stood amid a world in which flesh was merely a container. The soul was the important thing and the body was disposable. No big deal. The pagans believed in death as the final freedom of the spirit from its fleshly prison. They believed that the spirit was pure and so death was the final step toward pure spiritual freedom. They burned the body on a pyre and were happy to do so. It was just a container. The real person is now free.
Strangely enough, Christians now talk like this. Christians have adopted the vocabulary of pagans and treat the body as if it had no meaning or value – only the spirit. This is no small part of the equation of religion with spirituality. The spiritual but not religious still believe that the flesh is merely mortal clothing, gladly shed as freely as we take off our work clothes when we get home at night. Even more, our age treats the body as if it primarily an avenue for self-expression. We paint and do plastic surgery on the body as if it were but a canvas. It is no big deal – it will pass away but you, the spiritual you, will endure.
We forget that Christians have no smug disdain for flesh. We confess the God who came in flesh and blood, who did not spurn the Virgin’s Womb to be fit with a body like our own but without sin. We confess the God who redeems us soul AND body from sin and its death. He does not cast off our flesh as if it were no consequence but honors it with new life in baptism even as we are pledged everlasting life to come. Our bodies are made the temples of the Holy Spirit by baptism. God does not raise us to some spiritual plane but descends to flesh in His Son and the flesh and blood of this Supper we shall soon eat.
Our Lord does not dismiss the flesh but feeds the hungry on the miracle bread of loaves multiplied and fish expanded for thousands. He heals the withered limbs of the disabled and the diseases of the afflicted and says this as the very mark of the Messianic age. Go and tell John what you see and hear. That the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the mute speak, and the dead are raised! This was the promise of Isaiah fulfilled in Him who was the long promised Savior from God.
On Easter Sunday our Lord does not fly away as the captive spirit set free from its bodily prison. No, He rises and wears the new flesh death cannot touch. This body can be touched and Jesus eats bread and fish to show He is no spirit and no ghost but whole. His Easter miracle is the first fruits of many who will follow, the first born of the dead. Today we remember those joined to Christ’s death and resurrection by the splash of water with the Word on their sinful flesh and who, though dead, still live in Him. We look forward to our own joyful resurrection with Christ to dwell in Christ forever. We hope not for a spiritual life but the full promise of a new flesh and blood we wear for all eternity.
In Revelation, the vision God gave to John and to the people in his care who wrestled with persecution and trial, the dead are never described as mere spirits. They are tribes and peoples and speakers of language. They wear the white robes as the uniform of heaven and they hold in their hands palm branches. They fall down on their faces and cry out to the Lord with loud voices. “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” This is not a metaphor. This is a vision, a picture of how it is and will be.
The saints are not free spirits but the bodies marked with sin and carrying in them the frailties of mortality who were washed in the blood of the Lamb. These saints who once hungered and thirsted for more than this life could deliver have no want or need in their new and glorious flesh and blood. Their eyes too full of tears no long weep for loss but are filled with the heavenly reality unimaginable here on earth.
We do not believe in A resurrection. We believe in THE resurrection of the body, the resurrection of Christ who is the first of those to come. We confess that on the last day our Lord shall stand upon the earth to end the ticking clock of our mortal limitations. He will reach His hands into the earth and bring forth the dead to be raised as He is raised with new and everlasting flesh. He will call to the sea to release its dead and He will restore those whose remains have been lost. I believe in the resurrection of the body.
Those who have died in Christ will be raised, the perishable will put on the imperishable, the mortal will put on immortality. It will happen suddenly. In contrast to the slow passing of the ages, in the twinkling of an eye, the dead shall be raised incorruptible. They will live not some virtual or imaginary or fake lives but real lives – real lives absent the sin and death that have characterized this life and stolen our joy. On this mountain the veil that is cast over all people will be lifted and death will be no more.
On All Saints Sunday we groan in expectation of such a victory. We lament the cost sin has extracted from us. We ache because of the death under which we live and because of the dead who have gone before us. We come as the people whom God has claimed as His own in baptism to be fed and nourished in the Holy Communion. We refuse to settle for anything less than the full promise of Jesus, both for our loved ones and for ourselves. We look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
Like John we walk around in a world we can scarcely recognize anymore. We are afraid to turn on the news because of the violence, we sit in wonder at the next perversion called normal, we lament our failure to love children enough not to kill them, and then we worry if we are safe. We may wring our hands about the future of this world but Christ has promised a new world, a new body, and a new and eternal reality. We have cried too many tears for what was and for what was not to be to simply make our peace with death. We need a Savior stronger than death who can truly offer us hope.
To us the Scriptures speak today. Rejoice and be glad. For great is your reward in heaven. God will not give you some vague rendition of life but new flesh and new blood. He will raise you from this body of death to dwell with Him in the place of eternal light and life. He will set you in the place of honor prepared for you for the heavenly banquet of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb which has no end. He will place upon you the wedding garment which will not wear out. He will deliver you from all that death has stolen from you, you and all the dead in Christ, and will raise you up eternal, immortal, and imperishable.
On this day we speak forth in tears the names of the dead from our congregation and we lift in our own voices the names of our loved ones whom we still grieve. But we do this not in despair but in the hope of the resurrection of the BODY. God will raise you up and all the dead in Christ, and give to you and all who believe in Him the new and everlasting bodies He has promised. He will replace this heaven and earth already passing away with the new heavens and the new earth that will never pass away. This He has promised.
In a few hours we will gather over dinner to pledge toward that future Christ promised. Money for mission while the Lord is patient so that those who hear may believe in Him. A secure house and finances for the future so we will not pass on a maintenance list to our kids and distract them from the holy cause of mission and witness. A day to rejoice in a heritage but also a future, a people blessed by God, chosen to be His own, and living out this faith in this time, in this generation. What fear cannot steal, we gladly surrender to the cause and purpose of the Lord believing His cause is our highest and most noble purpose.
And by these gifts, we will confess our faith: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Hold on to this. This is what we speak in witness to a world which treats the body as if it did not matter or as if it alone mattered. We have seen the future God has prepared for us in the risen Christ. In our loss, this is our comfort. In our frailty, this is our strength. In our death, this is our hope. In our witness, this is our message. Nothing less than the full promise – a new and everlasting body so that we may dwell with Christ and He with us forevermore. Amen.