The Resurrection of the Body (Apostles' Creed, Pt. 12)


John 20:1-9, 19-31; 1 Cor. 15:33-49

If you have been with us for the past few months, you know that this morning we arrive at the end of a long discussion of the Apostle's Creed. Line by line we have examined the teachings of the Christian faith and here, on Easter morning, we reach both the end of the Creed and the beginning of faith...the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

We have talked about the resurrection before. Back, mid-way through the Creed, we affirmed that after Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, dead, and buried, that on the third day he arose from the dead. What was only implied back in that line is made explicit in the last: We believe in the resurrection of the body. Jesus rose from the dead in a way that people could see and touch. It wasn't just a spiritual resurrection and it wasn't a metaphor. When Mary goes to anoint Jesus body, the body is gone, and in every Gospel Jesus shows up in person. In some he eats and drinks, here in John he invites Thomas to touch his wounds so that Thomas may be satisfied that what he is seeing is real.

Now, having said that, it is also plain that Jesus' resurrected body is not entirely the same as the one that went into the tomb. This resurrected body is often not recognized as Jesus. Mary mistakes him for the gardener, disciples walk several miles with him on the road to Emmaus without realizing who they are talking to. He appears inside rooms without having used doors or windows to get there. The resurrected body of Jesus is both the same and different as the body that was placed in the tomb.

The great question of Easter is not so much whether the resurrection happened long ago, but rather, so what if it did? What has the resurrection of Jesus way back then got to do with me now? Isn't life still the same as it was?

Well, yes and no. The circumstances of life continue through the same cycles of joy and sorrow, living and dying, work and play. What is different because of our belief in the resurrection is not the circumstances of life, but our attitude about it. The resurrection of Jesus changes our attitude, because believing in the resurrection of Jesus is also believing something about our own life and death. What the resurrection story shows us on its most practical level is what happens when we die. It is one of the most common and basic questions I get asked as a pastor. What happens when we die? When we know that, when we can come to grips with the death that will eventually touch us all, we can truly live.

Jesus is a great spiritual teacher, but he is also down-to-earth, practical, and concerned with the things that concern us. I believe Jesus had this very physical and visible resurrection so that we dense disciples could understand what goes on at death. What I believe it teaches is this: Our bodies give out and cease to function. Our bodies are placed in the ground and return to dust. Our spirit, which includes our personality and everything we would recognize about a person, comes up out of the broken shell and is given a new body, more fitting for life in a new realm.

I've said all along that this is not new news from God. It has been there as a sign in creation all along, and Paul points this out in his letter to the church in Corinth. We see the principle all the time in seeds. We put a seed in the ground. It breaks apart. The seed "dies." But out of that seed grows something entirely new, a flower or a tree or other plant. The old body dies and a new body more suited to a new environment takes its place. There is a connection between the new body and the old, but they look and function very differently.

To say we believe in the resurrection of the body doesn't have to mean that we think that the cells of our current bodies are somehow regenerated and brought back to life. That sort of thinking has led to people refusing to be cremated and lots of unnecessary anxieties about airtight caskets and other types of preservation. For centuries there have been people worried that someone whose body was blown apart or lost at sea would not be resurrected because there was no body any longer.

That's not what we mean when we talk about the resurrection of the body. We mean what Paul means, which is that our spirits leave behind the old broken body, rise up to the light of God like a plant rises out of the dirt and into the sun, and receive the new body that can interact in the world of air and spirit just as successfully as our bodies here can relate to earth.

The other part of this last line of the Creed is equally important...we believe in the life everlasting. We may skim through that part or just mouth lines like "forever and ever, Amen," but the notion of everlasting life is a big one. Even though our earthly bodies give out, the soul or spirit...lives on, no matter what...always...beyond life here, beyond all time. Forever. Eternal life is not just about after begins now and never quits.

There's no doubt that both of these things are immeasurable comfort at those gut-wrenching times when you have to lay the body of someone you love in the ground, and I am consistently amazed at the number of people for whom I do funerals who forget this basic truth. We're still sad that they're gone. We miss them terribly...but for heaven's sake, they're not dead. They live on in a new body that we can't recognize with ours, and in a relatively short period of time, we will see them again.

But the notion of life everlasting has other implications as well. If it is only our bodies that die, and the rest of us will live on in a different body forever and ever Amen, then who we become on the inside matters a whole lot more. There are three things in life that you can't escape. God is one, you are another, and everybody else is the third. We are all in this together, for the long haul...the really long haul

Throwing away the body God has given you for this life is not getting you out of anything. It is only making your progress more difficult. You're going to have to learn the lessons of life in one way or another, because your life is not going to end, no matter what happens to your body. Life on earth and our earthly bodies are a gift to us to help us learn our basic learn to live with and love God, ourselves and each other. None of us is going away...not if we ignore them, not if we blow them up.

In the past month or so, I've had three jarring encounters with the world outside of the church. The first was at the beginning of last month when I attended a management seminar. At the close of the day, I was in a session with a former big whig at General Motors. In his closing remarks he was reminding us why it was important to be a good manager in whatever business we were in. "In the end," he said, "we do it because it will make us successful. And how do we measure success?" he asked. "By the amount of toys we can accumulate...the house, the car, the travel..." I couldn't believe my ears. He was dead serious. He was teaching a room full of managers that the goal of life...the definition of success...was in the accumulation of material possessions. I about came out of my chair. I didn't interrupt the class...perhaps I should have, but I was too stunned. I did speak to him before I left to let him know that some of us had other goals in life.

His teaching, I think, is largely responsible for the second encounter. It was just last weekend, as I was watching Newsnight on CNN. During their weekend show, they have a call-in question and at the end of the show they play the phoned-in responses. The question this night was, "Would you use a co-worker to get ahead?" The responses were chilling. "Absolutely," said many of them. "What matters is that I get ahead. It doesn't matter if someone else loses their job. Why would I care?" Some said they would not use another person, but many had no qualms whatsoever. Again, I sat with my jaw open. I know many people feel that way and act that way, but it stunned me that so many would proudly broadcast such ideas on national television.

The third was perhaps the most unnerving of all and it came last week as I examined the weblog from my website. The weblog allows me to see the sorts of people who have visited my website in the weeks prior. It gives me numbers of people, the countries and states where they came from, and it tells me if people came to my site through a link from some other site. Last week I found that 22 people had come to my site through a link I didn't know about...a site called

My weblog gave me the link and I followed it. The colors on the site were dark and foreboding. There were hateful and foul messages, pictures of Hitler and praise for the man. And then there was the posting that asked "Why would someone want to die of old age? That's boring. Why do that when you could die in some spectacular way?"

Looking at that website struck me to the core. Whoever posted the message about dying in a spectacular way is someone's son or daughter. They live in our world...perhaps they are your neighbors or their children. Clergy colleagues of mine will do their funerals and try to explain to their loved ones how God could let such things happen. I'm here to tell you that such things don't happen because God wills it. Such things happen because as Christians we have neglected our calling to spread the news about resurrection and everlasting life. The world is running case you hadn't noticed from the news. Hatred and divisions seems to be infecting every inch of the globe, and in the middle of all of it the Church is turned in on itself...worrying about our own petty concerns while the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

If Easter means anything, it means that we have got to quit our petty bickering, quit caring for only ourselves, and literally run out into the world with our message before it is too late. Mostly what we see of Christians on the news is condemnation, as we proclaim this group or that person to be outside of the grace of God. That's not our message! Love is our message. Life is our message. We've got to open our eyes. Hatred is the problem, not the solution. Violence is the problem, not the solution. Greed is the problem, not the key to happiness. And a church that ignores it has ceased to be a church at all.

We have life everlasting...beginning now and lasting forever. What is done by one affects us all...not just now but forever. Those who want to die in a spectacular way are going to find out that they have missed the boat...they have missed the whole purpose and gift of life. And they won't die. They will live on and have to come to grips with the fact that they have missed out on all that is truly spectacular on this earth. Those who step on the heads and hearts of their co-workers to reach the top where they can have all the toys they want, will find that they will outlive their toys. When their earthly bodies give out, they will leave all of that behind, and their soul will not have grown beyond the day they were born. Those whom they drove into poverty by their greed will enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them.

The message of Easter says that this earth is not all there is, and it is only a blip in the radar when compared to life everlasting. Jesus showed us on earth how to live in a way that makes eternity heaven rather than hell. That is the message we are charged with taking to the world. God is love, not hate, and the universe is so structured that to ignore that truth will result in your ruin, just as surely as ignoring the truth of gravity will do you in if you jump off a tall building. It's not about making ourselves comfortable. It's about giving the world the Bread of Life. The ladder to success is shaped like a cross, but it is not the death that is spectacular. It is the life. The everlasting life. He is risen-so are we. We need to shed the graveclothes, get out of the tomb and do something about it. Amen.

(c) 2004, Anne Robertson

Share this