Summary: The last phrase of the Creed: "The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting"
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY
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.