Raised to God’s Own Life
“I believe in the resurrection of the body” … so we proclaim when we make our profession of faith. But we sort of hope that things will be different when our bodies are raised to that new life, don’t we? Seriously, we look at our bodies right now. We know things about ourselves no one else knows. It’s not that we’re not proud of who we are and what we have. But because things are not perfect, given the choice, we would much prefer instead a newer and more improved version of ourselves. Right? Nonetheless, we have what we have, and we are cool with that … um, to a point.
Things can’t be all that bad so long as we’re not sick in bed, so long as we’re up and about. Yet there are the aches and pains we’ve come to associate with living and growing older, the creaking, the cracking, the crimping, the “snap, crackle, and pop”—ing, the bumps and blemishes, the stiff and sore joints, the back ache, the poor muscle tone, the spare tire, the extra toe (oops—TMI), the blurry vision, the fuzzy hearing, the loss of appetite, the need of frequent restroom visits, weakness in the knees, occasional bad hair days, a general weariness sometimes, a lack of motivation and energy, and the many physical changes that have manifested through the years. At some point every young person looks with eagerness to living independently and growing older because it means more freedom, more self-determination, more responsibility. Well, getting older is overrated. So instead of fighting it, you really should just move up a dress size. If you can’t commit to exercise, maybe there’s medication. You’ll breathe easier. You’ll get better circulation. And you’re not as cranky. Just saying.
But when we experience the natural consequences of being human and mortal, especially if it comes as a loss, bringing with it unthinkable hardship and inconsolable grief, we might imagine a return to some idyllic past when everything was wonderful and glorious. And given the complete impossibility of that even remotely coming true, we would be satisfied with something better than the present. “I’m not asking for much, God,” we hear ourselves pray in our brokenness. “All can be well again if my loved one were restored to me.” Many of us who have lost a loved one to death has prayed that prayer, or something like it. When the pain of loss is unbearable, we will naturally long for a better time in the past. It is the best we know. It is all we know.
“If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” Martha said. Mary said it, too. Their anguish was tangible, their pain real. “If you had been here.” If. Especially since you could have. But you weren’t. Now we can intellectually distinguish between our belief in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time and the grief of the present moment, this one loss, this one death. There’s no comparison. It’s not the same.
“Your brother will rise,” Jesus told Martha.
“I know he will rise, at the resurrection on the last day,” Martha replied.
But Jesus knew even she did not grasp the substance of her own words. Martha said the right words, but did she truly understand? Because if she did, would she still be so distraught and inconsolable? And Jesus was challenging Martha to look forward, not backward. It was a stretch because she had no idea what he meant to say.
“I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” It was a lot of mumbo-jumbo, especially for one who was already grappling with her own very tangible and very real grief. “If only my brother were still here,” she must have thought to herself. “I know I am asking the impossible, but it is the only outcome that will ease my grief.” Even her neighbors felt it. “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?” All they could focus on was the very human experience of physical death that we all must face. Whatever Jesus was speaking of was simply beyond their grasp. They knew death. Jesus could have talked all he wanted about being the resurrection and the life, but they could not see how any of that even mattered. As amazing as it was that he could make the deaf hear and the mute speak, that he would make the blind see and the lame walk, that he could make lepers clean again, and that he could feed the multitude from a few loaves and fish, death still had the last word. So even his claim of being the resurrection and the life was beyond them. Death was real and final. No one messed with death.
And Jesus saw his window of opportunity. It wasn’t exactly the best way he could have made his point, that through him God was offering new life to his people, not simply a better version of the life we have always known, but something far better and truly more awesome. But until we get past the mental hurdle that is physical death, it was just not possible to truly grasp his meaning.
Even the prophet Ezekiel seemed to be saying God would overcome more than physical death. “O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them … I will put my spirit in you that you may live.”
St. Paul, too, seems to touch on it in his letter to the Romans. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.”
But language can itself be the obstacle. It can only explain things in the context of the listener’s experience. Have you ever heard a child explain a great experience to a friend? “You’ve tasted hot dogs. But you haven’t tasted a hot dog at a Yankee game. It will blow your mind.” A hot dog any other time is an experience we share. A hot dog at a Yankee game is a religious experience. Any attempt to describe it will prove there are no words to adequately describe it. In fact, the attempt has become the obstacle itself.
So when Jesus called himself the resurrection and the life, and no one could grasp his meaning, raising Lazarus up from physical death did not make things clearer. All it did was show he had power over physical death, as he had power over sickness, deafness, blindness, lameness, leprosy, and hunger. Lazarus will have to die again, and the second death would be no different from the first. But Jesus proved he could restore physical life to the physically dead. What he meant was that he had power to restore the life of Grace to anyone who was dead to God because of sin. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” We still have to face physical death. But being restored to God’s life will blow your mind.
And still we fail to grasp Jesus’ meaning. We’re still trying to wrap our minds around Lazarus raised from the dead. He should have bargained for a more youthful look, a sharper mind, a higher metabolism. Simply being raised from the dead was not better. Jesus offers more. He restores sinners to the life of Grace, the very life of God.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016