Episco-Fact #42
April 16, 2017

What is the resurrection?

According the Catechism in The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 (p. 862), the resurrection of the body is, "that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints."

So, I am certain the above statement clarified everything, or, maybe not. Resurrection, especially, over the past four hundred years or so of church thought has become more obscure than it was in the early Jesus movement, and even that view was not simple.

Here are some things that resurrection is not. 1) It is not resuscitation. In the accounts of Luke (24:13 ff.) and John (20:1 ff.) Jesus seems to come and go without regard to time, space, or walls, and his body is not immediately recognizable to his friends, but becomes recognizable through the spoken word or an action that reveals the true nature of his being. 2) It is not angel-morphism, or becoming like the angels. That is made clear by comparing the descriptions of Jesus' resurrected body with the descriptions of the heavenly messengers in the garden in Matthew (28.3) and Luke (24.4). Jesus has the marks of his crucifixion still on him, and he eats, drinks, and is touchable. The angels glow.

Paul, the Apostle and first "Church" theologian, (Jesus is our Lord, Savior, and the church was not created until after his resurrection) gives rather extensive accounts of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:9, and Romans 8:14 ff. Reading these accounts can be troubling for those of who have grown up in the last half of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first century and have been filled with a steady diet of the perishable body and the indestructible and eternal soul.

Paul was reared in both late second Temple Judaism, as a Pharisee, and as a citizen of Rome with all its very Greek cultural and philosophical undergirding of the body and death. Therefore, Paul was trying to explain a very Jewish understanding to both Jews and Greeks. To him, death was death and the person, body and spirit died. But since the Creator God (i.e. the God of Israel) gives life, he raised the perfectly faithful Jesus from the dead, and gave him a new body infused with God's spirit. We who die with Christ in Baptism, according to Paul, are promised a body like Jesus'. Paul is sometimes ineloquent about this, but the paradoxical nature of resurrection—new and eternal life does not fit easily into the worlds systems or in human thinking.

For a short but fine explanation: see the entry "IMMORTALITY," in Wishful thinking: a Seeker's ABC by Frederick Buechner and for a fuller account, read Tom Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God. Easter celebrates God's new revelation that even death submits to him and that our ultimate promise is an embodied life, with his Son.


The Rev. David Lucey