01 April 2008
I am looking down from the airplane window on a beautiful (but still snowy) day in Minnesota. Karen and I are on our way to Vancouver, still exulting in yesterday morning’s glorious Easter celebration. We were still humming choruses of “I will ra-aise them up, I will ra-aise them up, I will ra-aise them up, on the la-ast day,” as we slowly advanced towards the security check in the airport.
The words, of course, are those of Jesus, spoken after he had fed a large crowd of more than five thousand people with a young lad’s lunch of a few fish and some small loaves of bread. “Do not toil for food that decays,” he said to them, “but for food that lasts to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” Then he pointed to himself as that food, the one who gives eternal life.
What Jesus was talking about was not some form of ongoing existence as a disembodied spirit. He promised to those who relied on him for life that he would raise them up at the last day. This may not have been as difficult a concept to grasp for his first hearers as it is for us today. They would have been exposed to the teachings of the Pharisees, who, consistent with broad sweep of biblical teaching, held to a firm faith in the resurrection of the dead.
It is a term we repeat week by week in our affirmation of the creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” What do we mean by this? Certainly not some crude reconstruction of our current bodies (for which many of us may be relieved!). It is something considerably more complex than that. The apostle Paul spoke of it as a “mystery”, by which “… we will all be changed …”
He used the metaphor of a seed being sown into the ground. As the plant that arises from it differs in so many ways from the seed, so the resurrection life will be distinct from all that we experience in the here and now. In many ways it is difficult even to compare the two. Yet at the same time there are correspondences. We can recognize, for example, the plant that comes from a kernel of corn, or an acorn, or a nasturtium seed.
We see this in the resurrection of Jesus in the gospels. At times the disciples found it difficult to recognize him. He was able to walk through a locked door as it were only a shadow. He could apparently be in Jerusalem at one moment and in Galilee the next. The limitations of time and space seemed to mean nothing to him. Yet he was the same Jesus they had known before the crucifixion, right down to the nail marks in his hands.
Much to our frustration, the Bible does not offer a detailed description of what the resurrection of the dead will be like. The one thing we can be sure of, though, is that it will be glorious. Glorious enough that all the sorrows, all the pain, all the tragedies and injustices of this life, will pale by comparison. Yet somehow I cannot but believe that even they will have significance—though, like everything else, unimaginably transformed.
As I complete these remarks, we are now in Vancouver, with our daughter and son-in-law and our new granddaughter, Maddie. Although there are still remnants of snow on mountain peaks, the forsythia and the cherry trees are in full blossom—all a marvelous annual foretaste of the true and final resurrection that is yet to come.