Monday, April 16, 2012

Why settle for immortality when His promise is Resurrection?

     I know it is Low Sunday and traditionally the day that we as clergy tell you as parishioners that it is ok to have doubts. After all, if the Apostle Thomas doubted and was still loved by Jesus, you and I really do not have to worry much about our doubts either, do we? Else why would Jesus declare us blessed for believing and not seeing? But, I found myself thinking this week more on the life to come. More specifically, I found myself reflecting more on conversations about our next body that I have had so far this year. The problem was I had no tag line. I had no pithy statement to sum up the discussions I had had with people in light of Rick’s death, Lilyan’s death, of confessions during and in light of Holy Week. Then Kathleen showed up, preached at Rick’s memorial, and gave me the tag line. Talk about a gift!

     When you go forth into the world and people ask you about the “benefits” of eternal life, how do you describe the world to come? More specifically, how do you describe what you believe to be the existence? Let me ask the question a bit differently: with a show of hands, who here hopes they get this body, the one we have right now, when we get to that great Wedding Feast with our Lord? Who here hopes they get their breaking down, achy, maybe a bit overweight body for all eternity? And we are the faithful! Can you imagine what people outside these walls think of their own bodies? I certainly can.

     There’s a great Christian movie out there that I feel almost always obligated to watch whenever I notice it is on television, no matter the hour, which is really stupid since I have the digital version. It’s called Highlander. And I won’t bore you with too many details about the movie, but in the movie there are immortals living among us seeking the prize. They are not sure what the prize is, but they all want it. And to kill another immortal, one must cut off his head (sorry, ladies, it is a sexist, violent movie and does not seem to have women as immortals). All other wounds, no matter how horrific heal; all other physical wounds heal. During the course of their lives, which sometimes reach a couple millennia, these immortals encounter other wounds. Hardest to cope with are the emotional wounds. Specifically, they are advised never to love. Love dies, and they live on until they lose their heads. It is a terrible tragedy of their existence. They can live for centuries, but they must live alone to avoid the hurt and pain of the deaths of others. It is a pain summed up neatly in that Contemporary Christian band known as Queen in their song “Who wants to live forever?” There’s no time for us . . . there’s no place for us. . . what is this thing which builds our dreams yet slips away from us . . .

     It is a frustration shared by many outside the church. As I reflected on the significance of Holy Week with various members of the Marquette Group, even those that are Christian were unsure why they should want to keep their bodies or even if they had a body in the world to come. Like you, they have aches and pains. Like you, their bodies are not the strong, vibrant temples of their youth. Perhaps like or unlike you, they have the cravings of their addiction on top of everything else. The idea of going through all eternity fighting addiction is not particularly a draw to them. Some simply kiss the chalice rather than drink from it, such is their addiction.  Who needs that? Who really wants it? And what of the psychological or emotional damage we all carry? All of a sudden, eternity with a body does not sound so appealing. Given the complete lack of hands a few moments ago, all of us share that same insight.

     What, then, will be our existence in the world to come? Certainly there will be a body. We are, as we remind ourselves each time we gather around this table, invited to a feast. What kind of feast lacks food and drink? Even Jesus seems to eat and drink (though He avoids the cup of Joy still) and walk and be huggable (though he commands Mary to wait). Of course, He is also somehow different. Sometimes, the Apostles and women do not know Him. He can enter through closed and even locked doors. He can travel incredible distances far quicker than we. So what will our existence be like? With all due thanks and footnotes to Kathleen, we as Christians do not proclaim immortality; we preach resurrection! Listen to that one more time, we do not proclaim immortality, we proclaim resurrection.

     What’s the difference? The difference is the gulf that exists between what happened to Lazarus when he was raised from the dead and what happens to Jesus when our Father raised Him from the dead. When Jesus told Lazarus to come out of that tomb, Lazarus was once again subject to the laws of this world. His life was simply restored to the same old shell he had always had. Like us, he was probably subject to disease and injury. Given that he is no longer around, he was subject to death. There is no account of him being unrecognizable or being able to enter locked rooms.  The life he lived once he was rasied from the dead seems to have been fairly normal, aside from the obvious notoriety.

     Jesus’ resurrection, however, was unlike anything ever before seen! He appears at times to be recognizable and at other times unrecognizable. he can interact with His friends and remain anonymous, and He can reveal Himself if He so chooses.  He is able to travel significant distances almost instantaneously. Clearly, as evidenced by the disciples and Thomas’ response, the wounds are still obvious. He is able to eat and drink. He is physically present enough that Mary wants to hug him, but Jesus commands her to wait. In a matter of a few weeks, He will ascend before the disciples’ eyes to be with the Father. His body has a physical presence; many of the Gospel narratives speak against the modern interpretation (as well as ANE) that His resurrection was a “spiritual thing” like a ghost or an idea. His body is as real as His promises and equally unimaginable to us.

     What we should be telling people about our bodies in the world to come is the good news that the nonsense to which we are subject here, pain, injury, fatigue, as well as the consequences of sin and death, will no longer be there to affect us when we are given our resurrected bodies. As we pray today, our minds, our hearts, and our wills will have been finally recreated to love what He loves, to desire what He desires, to know what He wants us to know. No longer will we be unruly. No longer will addictions hound us. Our bodies will be new, resurrected bodies, unique to each one of us, yet always glorifying to God. There will be a feast; that He has promised. There will be food and wine the likes of which we have never seen.  Maybe John of Damascus is right and there will be dancing (have you ever been to a wedding feast where there is no dancing?) I think it quite likely, and this would be amazing to you if you have ever seen me dance, we will all be good dancers, if there is dancing. I would even bet that calories will no longer have to be counted as we should count them in this life. We will run and not grow weary! In short, brothers and sisters, there will be activity, at least of a sort.

     What will our next body be like? To that, I have no specific answer. When people ask me if the bodies will be like their own at a particular age, I admit that I do not know for sure but that I would bet strongly against it. When asked why I would bet against that vibrant image of their younger self, I always remark that I have yet to meet the woman who thinks her body is without some blemish, and I have yet to meet the man who does not wish he had a bit more definition or a bit more whatever. Everyone has there own insecurities.   More often than not, people laugh at that observation. What I can promise is that God always fulfills His promises to us in ways that we can never ask or imagine. His ways are so far above ours, that I do not doubt we sell ourselves short when thinking of our bodies in the world to come. When we as children of God, are pondering the mysteries associated with the Creator of all things, seen and unseen, why should we ever expect to settle for immortality? We simply have to trust that our Father in Heaven, who created all things good in the beginning, has a wonderful body in store for us on that day He calls us home. And then with our own eyes, our own resurrected eyes, we shall see His face, the face who is not a stranger. Our message is joyful resurrection, brothers and sisters, not the disappointment, not the tease, not the hurt of immortality!

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