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Body Talk
Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995

1 CORINTHIANS 15:35-48, 42-55

Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we believe in the resurrection of the body. The Corinthians evidently had difficulty believing in the resurrection of the body, because Paul went to great lengths trying to explain it to them. Jewish Christians understood what Paul meant because the Hebrews did not divide a person into mind, body, and soul. It was the Greeks who separated the body from the soul; therefore, Greek Corinthian Christians were confused about resurrection of the body. They believed in the immortality of the soul, but 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. This kind of talk is foreign to the Bible. Present-day Christianity uses both phrases--immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body. Which is it? We are even more confused than the Corinthians!

Not only did Greeks separate the body from the soul, they believed that the body is evil, while the soul is pure. Therefore, resurrection of the body confused the Christians. 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 couldn't control yourself; then it was better to marry than to burn!

There was confusion in the Corinthian church about food for the body. Should they eat or not eat food that was offered to idols? Paul criticized them for getting drunk at church potlucks! He advised them to eat at home, and have a simple Communion service at church. They were confused about what to put on their bodies, and argued about whether they should wear something on their heads when praying in church. Some thought that speaking in tongues was especially spiritual because the sounds circumvented the patterns of normal speaking. In other words, sounds that bypassed part of the body were somehow more spiritual!

They were confused about the body, and we inherited that confusion. American culture also 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 picture the brain as a sophisticated computer. We go to the doctor to get the body mended or repaired as if it were an automobile. We overindulge the machine with food and drink, and harm it by smoking, doing drugs, and alcohol. When we treat the body as a machine, when we undervalue our bodies, we are acting as if the body is separate from the self.

Is the body evil, or is it good? Many controversial public issues today are about the body: abortion, sexual harassment, unwed mothers, pornography, whether graphic art depicting the body is vulgar or artistic, sex education, condom distribution, homosexuality, AIDS, and whether one has the right to die, the right to end the physical body's existence.

Might we not begin to address some of 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 you, includes everything about you. You are a thinking, sexual, spiritual being, and you are good. Everything about you is good when, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:31, Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.

Not only were the Corinthian Christians confused about the body, they were mystified by the concept of resurrection. Paul says the life to come is more than immortality of the soul; it is a resurrection of the body. Would it help to say, you don't have a soul, you are a soul. 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, the meaning is Praise the Lord with my entire being. You don't have a soul, you are a soul.

And, there is nothing immortal in you. Eternal life is a gift from God. It is an act of God. God gives you imperishability. God gives you immortality. Paul wrote, Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, you are given a spiritual body. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. Death is no longer victorious. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

Resurrection is also not confined to the time of death. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, the power of God has been unleashed upon this earth. There are possibilities of new chances, new starts, new beginnings, a new life. Resurrection is the ground, the foundation, of the Christian's hope. Hope is not the same as optimism. Not too many years ago, people were optimistic about the future. With technological advancement, they thought life was getting better. There is no longer any room for such optimism. Over 100 million persons have been killed in wars in this century. Our streets are no longer safe. Violence is not only widespread, it is revered and promoted.

But, we have hope, not optimism. Easter gives hope because it promises that God will do for believers what God has already done for Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is not the end, but the first of other resurrections.

Our tour guide, Ezra, told us about his mother-in-law. I don't know if you've heard, but I've been on a trip! (Doris Barrett just returned from a trip to Australia. I told her yesterday, "I understand you've been on a trip." She replied, "Yes, but I don't talk about it all the time!") Ezra's mother-in-law was the only member of her family to survive the Nazi holocaust. When she was a little girl, the police came, and rounded up her family, along with other Jews. They marched them to the train station, where they stood on the platform, huddled in fear, waiting for the train. There were awful rumors floating around about what happened to Jews who boarded the trains. But, all they really knew was that no Jew ever came back, no one ever returned.

While they were waiting for the train, a Roman Catholic nun approached, took Ezra's future mother-in-law by the hand, and led her away. A guard shouted at her, and asked her what she was doing. The nun replied, "Can't you see this girl has blonde hair and blue eyes. She doesn't belong here." The mind of the little girl's mother raced quickly, and with unbelievable mother love, she told the guard, "I don't know this little girl. I don't know who she belongs to." With that love, the mother gave her little girl to the nun and, in so doing, saved her life. Ezra said his mother-in-law tells a long story of orphanages, foster homes, working in fields, being cheated out of her small savings, moving to India, and finally emigrating to Israel where she found a new life, a new start, a new beginning. Truly, she was resurrected from the dead. In the midst of terrible evil, there is hope. Out of despair, there is resurrection.

We believe in the resurrection of the body. The body is good. Life is good. Everything about you is a gift from God. You are a total, whole, complete child of God. Because God loves you, and because God raised Jesus from the dead, you can become a new creation in Jesus Christ, with a new start, a new beginning.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris