Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Resurrected Body of Christ





At Easter we spoke about the resurrection. We spoke about the fact that the body of Jesus had gone missing from the tomb. We also spoke about the fact that multiple people reported having an experience with the resurrected Jesus. … People in the ancient world were accustomed to stories about dreams or visions where a loved one who died spoke to someone. They were also aware of stories about ghosts. You might remember that when Jesus was walking on the water some of the disciples in the boat were afraid because they thought Jesus was a ghost (Matt 14:26). In our Gospel reading we again see that the disciples were trying to fit the resurrected Jesus into a category so they could understand what was happening. We read, “They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Luke 24:37). Then Jesus eats a piece of fish in front of his disciples. This might seem like an odd detail to include, but what he is doing is proving that he is not a ghost. He didn’t fit their categories.

What they were reporting seemed to be something other than a vision or a ghost. … Jesus was resurrected, but that was something that hadn’t really been seen before. He was living a flesh and blood life again, but not exactly like the life he lived before. …

You might be thinking, “well, what about Lazarus?” When Jesus raised Lazarus back to life, Lazarus went back to living his life. He was returned to the way he was before he died. And he eventually died again. I imagine that Lazarus continued to live and get colds and would have achy muscles if he worked a hard day. It doesn’t seem like there was anything different about Lazarus when he was brought back. …

But, when it comes to Jesus there is something strange happening. What the disciples experienced was not just a vision and not a ghost. They experienced a flesh and blood Jesus. But he didn’t seem to be just back to the way he was before he died the way that Lazarus was brought back. The disciples said that Jesus would suddenly appear among them even when the doors were locked. He would disappear just as mysteriously.

Earlier in Luke 24 you might remember that two disciples were walking to Emmaus after the crucifixion and after hearing stories about the empty tomb, but they didn’t know what to make of it all. A stranger started walking with them and taught them about the fact that the messiah was supposed to suffer and die and rise again in three days. It turns out to be Jesus but somehow they don’t recognize him until he breaks bread with them, then he disappears.

Similarly, in John we read about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus (20:1-18). She didn’t recognize him. He even speaks to her and she still thinks he’s the gardener. Commentators have all kinds of trouble trying to explain why she doesn’t recognize him- is it the tears in her eyes? Is he standing behind a bush? Is it that her mind can’t handle the idea that he could be back from the dead? She doesn’t recognize him until he says her name.

Later in John we read that Jesus appears among the disciples even though the doors are locked (20:19). And in John 21 we read that the disciples were fishing and Jesus was on the shore, but the disciples didn’t recognize him even though they were having a conversation about how their fishing was going.

There is something strange going on with the resurrected Jesus. He has amazing abilities to appear into locked rooms, and disappear just as mysteriously from supper tables. His own disciples, who were with him day in and day out, sometimes didn’t recognize him

In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul teaches, 

“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:42-44).
 The body we have is sown in the grown when we die, but it is raised as something different. When Paul is talking about a spiritual body, he isn’t necessarily talking about a spirit or a ghost. He is talking about a new kind of body. The body Jesus had in his resurrection was a new creation. It had never been seen before. Our reading from John’s first letter makes a similar point when it says, 
“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2-3).
 What we will be won’t be exactly like what we are. It will be in continuity with what we are, but it will be different.

The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright says, 


“The new body … will belong in both the dimensions of God’s world, in both heaven and earth. (At the end of the book of Revelation, heaven and earth will finally be joined together into one, so there wont be any shuttling to and fro; the two dimensions will be fused together at last). At this moment our bodies are earthly only; Jesus’ new body is at home in both earth and heaven” (Luke for Everyone, Luke 24.36-53).

So, the resurrection of Jesus isn’t so much about Jesus coming “back” to life, as if he came back to the same existence he had before. Instead what the resurrection seems to be is a pushing through death to come out the other side into a new existence. The resurrection is a new creation. Paul says that the resurrection of Jesus is a first fruit (1 Cor 15:20-22). The resurrection is the beginning of God’s renewing of creation and the binding together of heaven and earth.

At this point we might very well say, “assuming we believe this resurrection business, that’s very good for Jesus, but what does that matter to me?” There’s two things that I would say. One, is that Jesus’ resurrection body is often described by Paul as an example of the kind of body that his followers are promised to eventually have. Christians are sometimes described as people who have their roots in the future. We can be courageous today despite the difficulties we face because we have been promised a glorious future. That means our circumstances don’t define us. In Romans 8:18 Paul says, 

“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”.
 And this is coming from someone who also wrote, 
“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor 11:24-28).
 So When Paul talks about momentary affliction he isn’t talking about getting a cold, he is talking about facing serious suffering.

The other reason the resurrected body of Jesus matters to us is hidden in the fact that he kept his wounds. He kept the holes in his hands and his feet. He kept the gash in his side. He invited Thomas to touch them. I’m assuming that part of resurrection is a healing of the wounds of life. If you had a chronic illness I’m assuming you would be healed of that. If you lost a limb, I’m assuming that your resurrected body would include a restored limb. … Then why would Christ continue to have his wounds? Why wouldn’t they be healed? … I don’t know, but I believe that they are a physical sign of his love and connection to humanity. The Christian teaching is that God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, took flesh into himself. He bound himself to humanity, and not just the flesh but also the wounds that he suffered to show humanity the extent of his love and his willingness to do battle against sin a death on behalf of humanity. He kept the wounds because they are symbols of his love for you.

I think this calls us to respond. How do we live now, knowing that Christ has shown such love and endured such pain to free is from sin? How do we live now, knowing that no matter what we face we are promised a glorious future with God in a world where earth and heaven are wedded together? John’s letter sums up our response well, 

“Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). 
Amen

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