Alright, maybe I can’t get babies and a puppy under control enough to blog more often right now! But that’s okay… right? So, the mystery of the Resurrection:
Right now, I’m not really talking about Christ’s resurrection, but the resurrection of the saints. It’s a strange thing. I remember in my Protestant days there wasn’t a heck of a lot of talk about our physical resurrection. We more heard about heaven and worshiping in the presence of God, clouds and music, that sort of thing. I don’t know if I remember it this way because of my muddled and childish view of things or if Protestants really ignore the physical resurrection as some kind of side-note in the Bible. In my adult days, I can’t remember any “hope of the resurrection” sermons. But I remember being afraid of heaven when I was little. Weird reaction to people’s attempted description of paradise, I know. But I thought everyone’s formless spirits all lined up singing, which was my child-like view of worship, sounded boring. Now I realize there is a lot more to worship than just singing. To love our God, in His perfection, is to worship Him. That relationship with God, to perfectly know and be known, will fulfill the godly nature of our Earthly desires. Nothing bad about that.
Heaven is one thing I can accept now, but what about our physical bodies, raised from the dead, like Lazarus, glorified like Christ’s? Now that’s something else entirely. I feel like there’s some deep truth hidden behind the resurrection, and the Eucharist, and Christ’s words “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” It’s out of my grasp, but I can feel it, a mystery in the hope of Christians. Why is that our hope? Why isn’t heaven our final goal?
And why don’t Protestants talk about it that much, and instead focus on going to heaven? After reading the wiki-page on the resurrection of the dead, and the section on the modern “de-emphasis”, I’ve decided I’m not crazy! Since the 17th century, Protestants have focused more on souls going to heaven instead of the hope of the resurrection. The author of the wiki-page offers some suggestions as to the cause:
- Interviewed by Time in 2008 senior Anglican bishop and theologian N.T. Wright spoke of “the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk about their ‘souls going to Heaven,’” adding: “I’ve often heard people say, ‘I’m going to heaven soon, and I won’t need this stupid body there, thank goodness.’ That’s a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.”
- Early church fathers defended the resurrection of the dead against the pagan belief that the immortal soul went to heaven immediately after death.
- Dartigues has observed that especially “from the 17th to the 19th century, the language of popular piety no longer evoked the resurrection of the soul but everlasting life.
Some time ago, I read Augustine’s homily on John 6, where Christ says “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” He compares these words to the words in 1 Corinthians 8:1 “Knowledge puffs up, but charity edifies.” Augustine points out that this doesn’t mean knowledge is useless, but that without love it is useless. Likewise, he says, when Christ says “It is the Spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” He doesn’t mean that flesh never profits, but that without the spirit, flesh profits nothing. Augustine explains this is how we must understand Christ to understand Him consistently after He has just commanded us to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and that we have no life in us unless we do. Seems rather obvious when he puts it like that, now, doesn’t it?
There’s a connection between the physical world and the spiritual world, in which physical things are moved by the spirit. Yet we can’t abandon the physical for that which moves it. Our ultimate goal is to exist as we were first created, body and spirit together. After the resurrection, we’ll be as we were intended, our glorified bodies in unity with our Father. All we can conclude is that Augustine is right, and flesh profits. We see it in the Eucharist, as Christ’s Body and Blood give us life. And now we see it in the resurrection, our goal. Personally, I’m glad. I can’t fathom God’s understanding of these things, but I love the works of His hands. I love the stars, the ocean, the fields, and a breeze on my skin after it’s been warmed by the sun. I love eating a good food prepared by a good cook, and waking up from a good nights sleep (though that’s a distant memory). Almost with some level of absurdity, I love Chris’s touch. It is the spirit that gives life, but I know at some level the physical moves the spiritual as well.
On Called to Communion, Brian Cross writes: “The interior is more important than the exterior. But, (and here is what so many people miss, and what gnostic Christianity misses entirely) the bodily and the external is what incites our affections to submit to God. The exterior moves the interior. Why? Precisely because we are humans, and not angels trapped in bodies. This is why it is connatural to us, says Aquinas, to proceed from the sensible (i.e. the physical, external, material) to the intelligible (i.e. the internal, the spiritual).”
This is exactly the train of thought that I’ve been on. The resurrection is pointless unless the physical matters, and gnostic Christianity, popular Protestantism, the evangelical traditions that have been thoughtlessly handed down to us, miss it entirely! They miss it in the sacraments, too, not realizing that God uses material things to move the spiritual. The spirit gives the flesh life, so the flesh profits! They miss it in worship, in reverence, in anything sacred itself. I posted before that I believe the Reformation destroyed the sacred, and this must be why. It’s a confusing turn in theology in which Protestants look solely to the spiritual realm, to the interior, for benefits. This must be why Protestants have all but abandoned the resurrection as well sacraments, sacrifice, and all things sacred. Basically any words beginning with “sacr”.
The dual nature of humanity is new to me. At least the importance and inextricable qualities of it are new to me. And as always, light is shed on issues I never expected with this new understanding. All these thoughts tumbling around my insufficient brain, and I keep hearing these words ringing in my ears: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”