Sermon - Epiphany 6 (Ordinary 6) Year C - | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |

Resurrection of the Body

[See the sermon for last Sunday for an introduction in terms of the importance of belief in the resurrection of Christ as essential to the good news and to our hopes: Of first importance.]

As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. -- 1 Corinthians 15:22

What do you think when you say the Apostles Creed, where it refers to the resurrection of the body?

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen. [cf Nicene Creed 'resurrection of the dead']

The Christians in Corinth also wondered about that - the resurrection of the body. Paul had been writing about having confidence in their own resurrection because Christ has been raised up from the dead. But, how? They wanted to know. Does it make sense?

Paul said it was like a plant coming up from a seed:

What does it mean to say that I believe the resurrection of the body?

Why resurrection? Why body? For Paul it is not simply belief in life after death; nor is it the same as belief in the immortality of the soul. [On this see last week's sermon Of first importance also.] Why was Paul concerned about it? And should we be? Or should we rather be concerned with getting on with our lives in this world where we are called to a life of service seeking justice and peace? Can we really know anything about it anyway? Would anything we say be mere speculation?

One thing is clear about the importance of belief in the resurrection of the dead as the apostles taught and we were recalling last week:

There is no Christian faith without belief in the resurrection, not only of Christ but also at least in the potential of all people to be raised from the dead, for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

Still, you might say, even if it is part of the tradition, why should we bother with it now, are we not escaping the real questions of our responsibilities here and now with this talk of "pie in the sky when you" -- did the communists not have a point when they saw religion, and the Christian religion in particular as "the opiate of the people", a means of keeping the masses happy in subjection, not demanding the material benefits due to them. Were not Freud and the other masters of suspicion onto something they saw such beliefs as primitive wish fulfilment. Indeed, even in terms of strategy for the church today, should we not be more relevant addressing the here and now?

Why this needs to be addressed is an important question. I will take some time on it even if it means that some of the main topic will have to be dealt with another day.

What about relevance?

Time magazine a while back published an article with many statistics on trends on the US economy and social life. One set of graphs showed changes in religious affiliation over the past 25 years. There is a very clear trend which should give us cause to think, even if the picture is not exactly the same here in Australia, and there are important differences.

What has happened in the US is typical in many respects of what has been happening in Western society generally:-

The mainline protestant denominations (Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal [Anglican] and Lutheran) have all declined significantly in membership. The losses number many millions in that large population, although great numbers still remain active in those churches which have been amongst the most influential institutions in American society.

At the same time there are two large groups which have increased by millions: they are the Roman Catholic Church and the `evangelical' churches such as the Baptists and the AOGs. The catholics increased by more than 12 million and the Southern Baptists by about 3 millions, in the same period as the United Methodist Church which had been about the same size at 11 million in 1970 declined by over 2 million.

We should note that in the same period the numbers of `non-religious' has also increased significantly.Before I suggest some lessons to learn from this we should not that the Australian picture is different in that the `evangelicals' are much smaller in number, and indeed the Uniting Church had grown more than most between the last two censuses up to 1991 although it has suffered more through the nineties - for reasons that deserve some thought; but compared with 25 years ago churches of our traditions and the Anglicans have declined in Australia relative to the Roman Catholics and the small evangelical groups. I am not trying to arouse sectarian anxieties, or any competitive motivation. Rather we should ask what we can learn from these trends, without, of course, assuming that we should do whatever is required to be popular. Indeed trying to be popular or even `relevant' would appear to be the least desirable strategy: it is untruthful, it lacks integrity and it is unsuccessful in matters of faith.

Catholic and Evangelical

Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics both separately now outnumber Mainline Protestants in USA. Why? What do evangelicals and Catholics have in common that the mainline churches of the reformation do not have to the same extent in their recent life? Now, "catholic and evangelical ought to include the Uniting Church. I want to emphasise that the Uniting Church in Australia was intended to be catholic, evangelical and reformed, all three. At the time of the union this was said many times, and the Basis of Union clearly reads that way; so we should have within our own traditions whatever is more successful in the catholic and evangelical churches.  In contrast to the liberal protestant churches, the catholic and evangelical churches, in spite of their great differences and many weaknesses like the rest of us, have in common several crucial qualities:-

1.  Internal cohesion and discipline in greater measure than others; the strength to witness to one's own people and to teach with authority -- from scripture and tradition -- without testing what they say by reference to the world around them. They know where they stand

2.  Devotional practices with an element of otherworldliness: belief in the spiritual world, the hereafter, and our ability to communicate with it, including strong or frequent sacramental, symbolic, dramatic and emotional aspects of worship.

3. Non-conformity in regard to popular pressures in politics and personal morality; a willingness to be different, even holy and pure, without shame before the world.

4. Being relatively unencumbered with worldly power and success; being strong among the least favoured racial and immigrant groups; never having been the natural ruling class or dominant group.

Can it be that the mainline protestant churches which have been dominant influences in the past are losing their way because they have compromised too much with secular society while they have seemed more relevant, rational and respectable. It is not a purely Uniting Church problem and indeed the pressures that are on us are also on the catholic and evangelical churches, which show the same weaknesses from time to time, but the fact is that unless we make a radical change we will soon reach the point of no return in which an aging group desperately tries to save itself and ceases to be an effective agent of mission. Is it worthwhile to consider giving greater emphasis to both the catholic and evangelical characteristics we already possess?

Perhaps we might begin by learning from scripture and tradition without shame, being prepared to accept the otherworldly spiritual character of Christian life and beliefs. I would go further and say there is nothing more "relevant" to contemporary society than belief in resurrection of the dead. It is strategically necessary to address this central tenet of Christian faith. It also happens to be a true and essential part of the gospel which has been handed on to us.

The great resurrection debate

At the time of Jesus the resurrection of the dead was a topic of great debate. Some of the Jews, like the Pharisees, believed in it and some, like the Sadducees, did not. The teaching of Jesus and later of Paul is similar to that of the Pharisees. Some of the debate is reflected in the dispute with the Sadducees in Mark chapter 12:

This is interesting because he interpreted the story in Exodus in quite a different way from how it had been understood before. It shows that Jesus had in mind the potential of people of earlier times in general at least to be alive with God, but the idea that the dead could be raised to a new life with God is not found in the Bible until the vary last part of the Old Testament to be written, that is, in Daniel which was written about 167 BC:

That was a time of extreme persecution, the struggles of which are recorded in books of the Maccabees and other writings of the period between the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament and the time when the New Testament was written. Those "Apocryphal" books contain evidence of the debate and the commitment that some of the patriots (believers) had to the faith that God would raise martyrs who suffered for their beliefs:

So said one of seven brothers who each in turn resisted pressure to deny their faith and conform to the idolatrous religion of their conquerors. As each of them went to their death their mother encouraged them to face death rather than give in to their tormenters with such words as:

Their understanding of God's mercy and his rule over all things meant that death could not triumph in the end. Such beliefs in the possibility of resurrection were known to give strength to both Jewish and Christian martyrs. So for example Paul in the chapter we are considering refers to his own experience:

So the Christian hope inspired the kind of life they led:

It was so close to the centre of what they believed that Paul saw himself as being on trial, when he was before a court, precisely for his belief in the "hope and resurrection":

No doubt he saw the possibility of starting a dispute amongst them.

Prior to period just before and during the time of Jesus earthly life there is very little evidence of belief in life after death among the Jews or the ancient Israelites, although they did see that in their national life God could restore them after national disaster. Scholars suggest that they had a vague belief in the dead existing in a kind of sleep under the earth, in the "realm of the dead", "hades" in Greek, but with no suggestion of their being raised to a new life. That idea of new life necessarily included growth and movement, development and fulfilment, qualities not found in the realm of the dead. Some change was necessary for the qualities of life to be experienced again by the people who had died, and when they came to belief in resurrection they came understood it as something brought about by God.

[There is interesting material in 2 Esdras 7:32, 37; 4:35, 40-43, dating form about the same time as the Gospels were being written, showing how the caverns under the earth were thought to be like a womb about to give birth to the resurrected beings they held.]

Immortality of the Soul and Resurrection of the Body

The Greek idea of people being made of a material body and an immaterial soul, a dual character of human life which divided at death so that the soul survives while the body decays, is an idea quite foreign to the Hebrew way of thinking and is completely absent from the Bible. There is no natural immortality in the Biblical understanding of human personality. Those ideas came into Christian thinking later from pagan sources. In the Bible a human being is thought of as fully integrated personality; the words for soul (which also meant life) and body are used together and interchangeably. It is difficult for us to see this because we have influenced by other traditions and translation is difficult. So, for example, Paul writes:

The word translated physical [or natural NIV] is actually from a form of the common word for soul -- pysche -- which also means life. In the next verse the earthly character of the original man is described literally as a living soul and contrasted with a life giving spirit:-

Body can mean soul and soul can mean body: both are earthly. The spiritual things or a spiritual body, are of a different order, in which their character is determined by the relationship of the person to God which is represented by the gift of the spirit.

The holistic view of humankind is represented in the most ancient of Jewish affirmations, in the Shema, still said by Jews today:

This was repeated by Jesus:

It was the whole person who was called upon to love God, and it was the whole person who was at risk of death and decay. Even when people were in close relationship with God it involved the physical aspects of their natures as part of the totality with which they heard the Word of God:

When we say we believe in the resurrection of the body, we are talking of something other than the immortality of the soul, not the immaterial part of a person which naturally survives, but the whole living person.

By man also came resurrection

Of course the body that is raised is changed into a spiritual body, the same life in a different form, like the plant that grows from a seed, but that depends upon a positive action by God. He has made provision for us to be related to him through Christ, so that we can be transformed to a new life because he has conquered death, together with sin and all kinds of corruption:

All things are ours:-

When we say Jesus is Lord, and believe in our hearts that God raise him from the dead (Romans 9:10), we have confidence in our salvation as whole beings renewed both in this life in the Spirit and after our resurrection in a spiritual body in eternal communion with God. What a promise! What cause for praise and thanksgiving! Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.

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(1) "PHYSICAL" 5591. psuchikos, psoo-khee-kos'; from G5590; sensitive, i.e. animate (in distinction on the one hand from G4152, which is the higher or renovated nature; and on the other from G5446, which is the lower or bestial nature):--natural, sensual.NIV etc. natural body cf physical; see also Psyche living body in next verse.

(2) "BEING" living being: zao psuche 5590. psuche, psoo-khay'; from G5594; breath, i.e. (by impl.) spirit, abstr. or concr. the animal sentient principle only; thus distinguished on the one hand from G4151, which is the rational and immortal soul; and on the other from G2222, which is mere vitality, even of plants: these terms thus exactly correspond respectively to the Heb. H5315, H7307 and H2416):--heart (+ -ily), life, mind, soul, + us, + you.

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