Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter: Resurrection Bodies or Matter Matters


For most humans, death is a problem. Death destroys beauty and joy. It breaks our heart to lose a loved one. The process of dying can be horrible as well. The fear of death is widespread. While the Stoics advocate courage in the face of all suffering and the acceptance of our mortal state, many long for more. World religions are divided on the afterlife.

When Dr. Moody's book, "Life After Life" came out in 1975, many were delighted to read about the  hundred people who had been clinically dead, were resuscitated and came back with amazing stories about their experiences. Since then, many others have added their own amazing stories and research, lending credence to the belief that the soul lives on after death. Whether true or not, the possibility of our souls continued existence does not solve all our problems, especially if we remain lonely, wounded and sinful. There really are things worse than death.

Resurrection is not a spiritual event. The resurrection stories about Jesus emphasize His physicality. Jesus is not a ghost. If His body was new and improved, it was still the same body, scars and all. He was not a disembodied spirit. Many of us think that the ancient people were ignorant and full of superstition. Even if this were true, it is simply not true that they believed dead people would be expected to show up alive again a few days later. Those Jews who did believe in resurrection looked for it to happen at the end of time. Just like us. We never expect someone we bury to walk through the wall and talk to us. They did not say they saw His ghost. They said they saw Him.

In the fourth century the church battled the Arian heresy. This heresy taught that Jesus was just a man. One over-reaction ended up becoming another kind of heresy called Apollinarianism. They taught that Jesus had a human body and soul, but a divine mind. The word mind encompasses what we mean by the Personality (think, feel, perceive, understand and judge). It meant that the Incarnation was incomplete. Many Christians today probably agree with this, not knowing it was rejected by the church as false. They also denigrate our physical bodies and the world, preferring to be "spiritual." This is why the resurrection of Jesus does not resonate, they to think that at death our soul is set free to fly off to God. The world is something to be left behind and heaven is a place where we become angels, free to leave our human existence behind.

The orthodox teaching of the Church--following the Bible--tells us that Jesus does not leave this all behind. He returns to the disciples with a new kind of physical body, but the incarnation continues. Jesus will also return again, to raise us all and judge us. We too will undergo a transformation--our suffering ended and our tears wiped away--sin and death finally defeated, we will live, not as disembodied spirits, but as human beings in human bodies. This transformation is called theosis. This is why it matters if orthodox Christianity is true. If Jesus had both a human and divine mind, then we, too, can remain our human self even as we are united with God and transformed. Eternal souls would be stuck forever in suffering and sin without redemption. Human bodies without their own 'minds' would be perfected, but our personal self would be obliterated so that God would just be living in the empty shell that was once our human frame.

The good news is God created us to be in relationship with Him. The incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ provides us with a real example of how that can take place. Human life is precious to God and His intent is to raise us up, infilled with the Holy Spirit, making us one in Christ with Him. Death is real darkness, but beyond death there is a more radiant light. We will pass from death to life. Jesus is a trustworthy Witness. He is the One who has already done it. He calls us to die a death like His so that we can live our life in Him.

As we live here each day, we do not have to say "this is all there is,'' nor need we escape by claiming to be "spiritual." Resurrection means that this life is the raw material that God redeems and raises up. Remember "Death is temporary,  Life is eternal." We are not destined for eternal darkness or a bodiless existence in the spirit realm. So we must consecrate each moment and every place to God, as eternally significant. Resurrection faith means our body and life matter, as make our Easter cry, "Alleluia! Alleluia!"

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