April 21, 2019

DEATH IS CONQUERED
Easter Sunday

BIBLE READINGS
Acts 10:34-43 
1 Corinthians 15:35-49

 REFLECTION

I recently watched a television show about a medium who works amongst the celebrities in Hollywood. A medium is a person who claims that he/she can bridge the gap between the living and the dead; that he/she can communicate with the dead and pass on the message to the living.

 What fascinates me the most with the show is how the medium describes the appearance of the dead; how he can see their physical appearance; how he can see the kind of physical problems that they faced when they were still alive, the kind of disabilities or illnesses that they dealt with. He even knows the causes of their death.

 Now, I’m not an expert in medium or conversing with the dead. This is an area that is beyond our normal human observation or comprehension. It is something that we cannot scientifically prove or disprove. It is well within the realm of mystery that human logic or knowledge can’t explain.

 But, let’s say that it’s true. Let’s say that a medium can really see or communicate with dead people. Let’s assume that, even though it is outside of the periphery of natural law, it is real. Then, it means that, in life beyond death, our body still plays a part, even a significant part; that our body can’t simply be dismissed even at the point of death.

 I was at my mother’s bedside when she passed away a few years ago. I was there when the hospital staff took her body from her room to the morgue. And, I couldn’t thank them enough for the way they treated my mother after she died. They treated her with the utmost respect. As they cleaned and moved her body, they even talked to her as if she was still alive.

 There were a number of reasons why they did that. One was to be respectful to the members of our family who were present there, including me myself. After all, my mother’s body was a part of who she was as a person. For me, it was still her.

 Second, I think they did that be respectful to my mother herself. After all, to respect the body of a dead person is to respect the person himself/herself.

 But, I believe there was still another reason why they talked to her body. I think they still believed that she was still present, even after the moment of death.

 Modern medical science may disagree with this. After all, it sees death as the moment when the brain stops working. But, there are things in life that cannot be easily explained by modern science.

 Now, I don’t’ want to sound too morbid this Easter morning. Easter is about the resurrection after all. But, we can’t understand the resurrection unless we understand what death is all about. After all, we can’t have Easter Sunday without the Good Friday.

 In the ancient Greek mindset, each person had two parts: body and spirit. In the moment of death, these two aspects of a person would be split. The body would decay, while his spirit/soul would live on. According to a great mind in Greek philosophy, Socrates, the body was a prison - sōma sēma. At the moment of death, the spirit/soul would be freed from this prison.[1]

 This kind of thinking influenced the early Christian understanding of the resurrection. Many people believed that, during the resurrection, only the spirit was raised, not the body. This kind of thinking gave birth to one influential movement in the history of Christianity: Gnosticism. But, this movement was labelled a heresy by the founding fathers of the Church.

 The ancient Jewish mindset was different however. In the Jewish tradition, the body and the spirit were one. There was no separation between the two.

 Now, we need to remember that the resurrection happened amongst the Jewish community. It was born from within the womb of Jewish world, not the Greek. As such, it was originally seen as an event that involved both body and spirit.

 This holistic view is consistent with the Bible’s testimonies of Jesus’ resurrection. The resurrected Jesus was not only a spirit; he was a full person.

 We can hear this in Peter’s testimony in the book of Acts. He declared that the resurrected Jesus ate and drank with his disciples, just like a normal person.[2]

 So, using our modern language, if it was only his body that was raised, Jesus was a zombie. If it was only his spirit, Jesus was a ghost. But, the early Christians testified that the resurrected Jesus was neither of these.

 Friends, when we talk about the resurrection, our language has its limits. Our words cannot fully comprehend the mystery. That’s why the authors of the Bible often used metaphors to describe the resurrection.

 The Apostle Paul was one of those who used images from his daily life to explain about the resurrection. Asked about what did it mean that the resurrection involved the body, he used the image of a seed.

‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies
(1 Corinthians 15:36 - NRSV).’

 A seed will give birth a to new plant. The new plant cannot be born without the seed. There is a continuation between the seed and the new plant.

 So, Paul did not dismiss the body. The body would play a role in the resurrection, although in a different form.

‘What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable
(1 Corinthians 15:42 – NRSV).’

 So, resurrection mindset sees the body not as a prison, but as the gateway to reach our spirit, our soul. At the time of the resurrection, our body is the seed from which the new life begins. Our body is the mirror, albeit a broken one, that reflects the glory of the fullness of time when death is defeated. As such, our body is not something to be dismissed. It is not something to be distrusted.

 Friends, the resurrection affects our physical and spiritual reality. The physical and the spiritual cannot and shall not be separated. Both play a part in the resurrection. As such, we must pay attention to both. We neglect one at the detriment of the other.

 Friends, Jesus came into the world to save us wholly. He did not come only to save our body or our spirit. He came to save our entire self, body and spirit. God has seen the body as important enough to play a part in the resurrection. As such, we are to treat our and others’ bodies with the respect and dignity and care that they deserve.

 Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] 1 Corinthians 15/19-26 Commentary by Sharon H. Ringe - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL).

[2] Acts 10:41.