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1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-38, 42-55
When we die, what happens? According to the Bible, what happens to us when we die is that we are resurrected, and given new bodies; not physical bodies such as we have on this earth, but spiritual bodies. The physical body is not resuscitated, but we are given a spiritual body. Concluding the sermon series on basic beliefs, using the Apostles' Creed, this morning we affirm: I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
In the early years, when the church was spreading throughout the Roman Empire, it encountered the belief in the immortality of the soul. The concept of the resurrection of the body was foreign to Greeks. To the Greek, the idea of resurrection was preposterous. When Paul arrived in Athens, the capital of Greece, the home of the great philosophers and poets, he witnessed to his faith in Jesus. The Greek audience listened attentively to him until he stated that Jesus was raised from the dead. Oh, how they laughed and scoffed.
No doubt the Corinthian Church was also having difficulty because Paul devoted a great deal of space in his letter to the Corinthians explaining resurrection. He used the analogy of planting seeds. A seed dies in the ground, but from it grows a vegetable or a tree, a new body. When we die, we are given new bodies. What we do to these physical bodies-- bury or cremate-- is incidental, because we will be given new spiritual bodies.
Because Christ was resurrected from the dead, we also will be resurrected. The physical body of Jesus was transformed into a spiritual body, and the biblical writers go out of their way to emphasize that the risen Jesus was recognizable. The risen Jesus was the same Jesus they had known before. He walked, talked, ate and touched. Biblical theology finds it impossible to think of a person without a body. It is the body that makes us distinct, identifiable human beings. How would we know one another without our bodies?
Paul was fighting a losing cause, however, because the church for centuries tried to blend the two beliefs, but Paul is emphatic. We believe in the resurrection of the body rather than immortality of the soul. The Bible has no such doctrine. There is nothing in us that is immortal. There is no such thing as a disembodied soul that enters our body at birth, and escapes the body at death. When we read the word soul in our Bibles, remember we are reading an English translation, and what is translated as soul means total being. When the Psalmist proclaims in Psalm 103, "Praise the Lord, O my soul," it means, "Praise the Lord with my entire being." Would it help to say you don't have a soul; you are a soul?
You may wonder what difference it makes! Oh, what we believe makes a great deal of difference. Belief in immortality of the soul rather than resurrection of the body has caused us many problems. Greeks separated the body from the soul, believing that the body is evil, while the soul is pure. Biblical Jews had a healthy appreciation of the body, which confused Greek Christians. This confusion is reflected in Paul's letters to the Corinthians. They were embarrassed by sex. Some were refraining from sexual relations with their spouses in the interest of spiritual purity, as if the sex act cannot be a spiritual experience. Even Paul was uncomfortable, and advised against marriage, unless you can't control yourself; then it is better to marry than to burn!
Many controversial public issues today are about the body: abortion, sexual harassment, pornography, whether graphic art depicting the body is vulgar or artistic, sex education, condom distribution, homosexuality, and whether one has the right to die, the right to end the physical body's existence.
Might we begin to address these controversies in more positive and helpful ways by believing in the resurrection of the body, by affirming with the Bible that the body cannot be separated from the self, that we are a totality created by God, and when God looked at what had been created, God affirmed, "It is good." The affirmation--it is good--includes the body, includes everything about you. You are a thinking, sexual, spiritual being, and you are good.
Greek Christians were confused about the body, and we inherited that confusion. American culture does not really know what to do with the body. Our culture thinks of the body as a machine, as some inanimate object, so it matters little how you treat it. We overindulge the body with food and drink, and harm it by smoking, doing drugs, and alcohol. We treat the body with contempt, believing we can do anything we please to the body, and then we wonder why we are ill, we wonder why the body fails us.
The sharp distinction between the soul and the body, where the soul is seen as pure and the body as evil, has led to an artificial separation between spiritual and physical, sacred and secular. Secular has come to mean something less important or less significant, something dirty and evil, while the sacred is seen as holy. In contrast, our biblical religion teaches that all of life is sacred and should be lived to the glory of God.
We treat the planet with contempt, ravaging the earth, destroying ecological systems, and then wonder why the air is foul, the ozone layer is thinning, and the temperature is rising. We can learn much from American Indians who saw no separation between humans and the earth, who knew that our very lives depend on how we respect and take care of the planet.
We also can learn from the Japanese. I was a missionary teacher in Japan for three years. One late evening I was visiting with one of the Japanese teachers, when he received a telephone call. He asked me if I would like to accompany him to the police station. One of his homeroom students was in trouble, and the police called both his family and his teacher. The school shared responsibility with the family 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Japanese industry had the same relationship with workers. The company was like a family. Japan has become increasingly westernized; I hope they are not now dissecting their people as our culture dissects us.
We send the mind to school to be taught. We send the body to the doctor to be cured. We send the emotions to the psychiatrist to be healed. We send the soul to church to be religious, and we leave sex with the pornographers. The Bible knows no such distinctions, and, thank God, we are beginning to understand that there are no such distinctions. What the Bible emphasizes is a holistic understanding of life. Modern medicine is recognizing that you can't separate physical health from mental, emotional and spiritual health. Some medical schools have received grants to teach courses in religion and spirituality! We are whole-- mind, body and spirit are all one-- and cannot be divided or dissected.
Who we are as persons is inextricably interwoven with our bodies. How can you know me without my body? I am my body. You are your body. Your body is beautiful; it is God's gift to you. Take care of it. Don't be embarrassed, ashamed, or wish you had someone else's body. Your body is you. You are more than your body. You are what you think, feel, dream, all that you have experienced and learned. But, what you are cannot be separated from your body. Thank God, physical pain, limitations, and illnesses will be gone when our physical bodies are gone, and we are given spiritual bodies.
We Christians believe that when we die we will not lose our personal identity by becoming a disembodied soul, or by dissolving into some kind of universal spirit or cosmic consciousness. What the Bible means by the resurrection of the body is that we are individual, distinct human beings with the ability to enjoy a personal relationship with God and with human beings, that transcends death. We will recognize one another. Relationships will continue and deepen.
Therefore, we need not face our own death, or the deaths of our loved ones, with fear, dread, terror, or anxiety. Death is not the end. We are going to be with Jesus in life everlasting, reunited with loved ones, and joining the communion of saints.
George and Rosie were married forty years. They obviously were still deeply in love with each other. They were attentive and responsive to each other. When you saw one, you saw the other. They did everything together, went everywhere together, except for church. On Sunday, George drove Rosie to church; then he sat in the car and read the Sunday paper. Sunday after Sunday. Then, Rosie suddenly died and George was alone. The church folk missed seeing George's car in the parking lot on Sundays; but a few months after Rosie died, on Easter Sunday, the car appeared in the parking lot, and this time George went inside the church.
He sang the hymns, he heard the choir sing triumphant music. He heard a rousing sermon on the resurrection. He heard that Christ was raised from the dead. He heard that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in him will never die. He heard Jesus' promise, "Because I live, you shall live also." And George couldn't contain himself. He stood up. With tears streaming down his cheeks, and a big smile covering his face, he shouted, "Rosie lives! My Rosie lives!" He burst into song and began singing, "My Wild Irish Rose." Then, Easter erupted all over the church, as one by one, the congregation joined him, and together, the entire church, raising the rafters, sang that great hymn of Easter, "My Wild Irish Rose."
Sisters and brothers, I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Do you believe? Do you believe in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life? Jesus said, John 11.26, "Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." Do you trust Jesus with your death, and with your life; living and believing in him so you will have life everlasting?
© 2001 Douglas I. Norris