I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. [Job 19:25-26]
In our lessons for today, what is being discussed is one of the most fundamental concepts of Christianity, and yet I venture to guess, it is the least understood. It is the Resurrection.
When we say the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, we profess in a belief in the Resurrection of the body and life everlasting. In other words, this is NOT an optional belief. It is fundamental to our faith.
In ancient Rome, the custom was to cremate the dead. When Christianity became a viable religion within the Roman Empire, those who denied the Resurrection continued to cremate their dead in profession of their lack of faith. The Christians in the early church decided to profess their faith in the Resurrection by burying their dead whole. For this reason, for centuries the Roman Catholic Church would not permit cremation except in extreme cases, like preventing the spread of plagues. It was not until the 20th Century that cremation was declared to be acceptable by the Roman Catholic Church.
But this little anecdote should impress all of us with how important faith in the Resurrection really is. And in the Gospel lesson, we have Christ Himself telling us that there is such a thing as the Resurrection – and more. But before we go into the Gospel lesson for today, let us look at the Old Testament lesson. This lesson comes from the Book of Job, and it is quite famous:
I know that my redeemer liveth,
and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
and though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God:
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
The interesting thing about this passage is that, when I did my research, there was very little written on it. This seems to be because there is a conflict in the primary sources. The older documents conflict with each other in some manner, though it is NOT clear how.
Personally, I take most analysis regarding primary sources with a grain of salt. Often, many of the sources were found in ancient dumps, meaning they were trash. To my way of thinking it is not surprising if these sources are different from what we traditionally hold as an accurate translation. They may be in the trash precisely because they mistranslated or copied the passage incorrectly.
The only thing I did find on this passage from Job is a quote from Saint Jerome who wrote:
“No one since the days of Christ speaks so openly concerning the Resurrection as he did before Christ.”
And this is the stand of the Anglican Church, for the priest reads this passage as he walk down the aisle in our Funeral Service. This passage provides us with a gripping look at the Resurrection.
The confusion regarding the Resurrection that I alluded to earlier deals with what is meant by the Resurrection of the body. Some think that what is resurrected is our current body. Others think that when we die, we are given a spiritual body in heaven and that’s it. Still others think that we exist in heaven in a sort of halfway position, waiting for the resurrection where we will be given our immortal bodies. Still others believe we sleep until the resurrection. And finally, others believe that when the resurrection happens, we will be given new bodies and not the same ones we had here on earth. These theories and beliefs make the Sadducees’ confusion understandable.
Then came to [Jesus] certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection.
Who the Sadducees were and what they believed becomes extremely important in understanding this passage. The Sadducees were a religious and political group that formed about the Second Century B.C. Their name comes from the name of the High Priest under Solomon, namely Zadok. His descendants were, in turn, granted exclusive right to minister in Jerusalem (Ezek. 40:46). Many historians and theologians believe that, because of this exclusive right, the Sadducees were considered part of Jewish society’s upper class. It is also believed that many were quite wealthy and held important positions in the Holy City. As a result of these things, the Sadducees became quite conservative, both in their politics and in their faith.
As to politics because of their position in Jerusalem, the Sadducees were given the duty of maintaining national relations between Israel and Rome. As a result, they strived to maintain the status quo. Their political philosophy was one of tolerance. They stressed living peaceably with the governing Romans, believing that by doing so, Judaism would be able to weather the storm of Roman occupation.
As to religion, the Sadducees were remarkably conservative. They held that no other passages of Scripture besides the Pentateuch, which is the first five (5) books of the Bible, had any religious authority. Thus, if a belief was not based on a passage in the first five books, they would deny it, even though most first Century Jews accepted the authority of the Jewish Canon. As a result, the Sadducees denied an afterlife, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and even the existence of angels.
As you can imagine, the Sadducees were not very popular with the great majority of Jews, especially those from the lower classes. The Sadducees also came into direct conflict with the Pharisees, who were highly regarded by most of Jewish society at the time. The Pharisees believed that the nation needed to be purged of all gentiles, which meant driving the Romans out and this, in turn made the Sadducees cringe. The Pharisees also believed in angels, the after life, and the resurrection of the body, and pulled much of what they believed both from other books within the Jewish Bible and also from their own oral traditions. No wonder the Sadducees and the Pharisees often came into conflict, and no wonder the majority of Jewish society sided with the Pharisees.
Now, this information regarding the Sadducees will help us to understand what Jesus is doing in His discussion with these Sadducees. He is combatting their lack of imagination and understanding by using examples from the first five books of the Bible:
“But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage. Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”
Note first what Christ is doing. He is telling the Sadducees that they are wrong – there ARE angels. As many of us may recall, there are references to angels in Genesis. Therefore, there is a real disconnect between what the Sadducees maintain and what is reported in those books that the Sadducees hold as the fundamental basis for their beliefs. Jesus also tells them that things will change once we are resurrected. First, we will be immortal, and second we will not marry.
Then Christ quotes Exodus to make the final statement against what the Sadducees believe:
“Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.”
It seems that the real sin the Sadducees have committed is the sin of a lack of imagination. They cannot fathom immortality or the resurrection and so they deny it.
Likewise, the real tragedy of modern and post-modern man is this same lack of imagination. Many studies have been done that show that, since the advent of television and video games, children raised in this era have a real lack of imagination. I can attest to the fact that many children seem to have an inability to picture things and often beg to see the pictures when stories are read to them.
This, I believe, has translated into people being unable to imagine the Resurrection of the body. They cannot imagine anything being better than this present world. Heaven may seem boring to them; hell may seem impossible. And a resurrected body necessarily has to be essentially the same as we have now, with the same flaws, desires, drives and limitations. Nothing better, nothing different can be imagined or desired. But if my supposition is correct, this just means that we must be more adamant than ever in our belief in the Resurrection. Which in turn means WE must believe in it and understand it as best we can.
So, what do we know will happen when we are resurrected? Well, first, the Jewish faith and, consequently, the Christian faith believe that the body and soul are one. They are intimately connected. This is in direct conflict with Gnosticism, which believes that humans are a dichotomy. They believe that the body is evil and the soul good. That which is physical is necessarily evil, and that which is spiritual is necessarily good. Therefore, they believe that humans cannot be happy until they rid themselves of their bodies.
Christians believe in the exact opposite. We believe both the body and the soul are good. We also believe that we are an integrated whole. And finally we believe that, after death, humans cannot be ultimately happy unless and until the soul is reunited with a body. Therefore, the Resurrection is a necessity for humankind.
We can also look at what Christ says in our lesson for today to gleam what our new bodies will be like. Christ tells us that we will be “equal to” the angels. But what does this mean?
For us Christians, there is only one human who has ever been resurrected, and that is Christ, Himself. First, we know that Christ’s resurrected body did not “appear” to be the same. It is not clear if Jesus clouded the vision of those around Him until He revealed Himself or if His body was different, but many did not recognize Him at first UNTIL Christ broke bread. We also know that, even though He passed through doors like a spirit, He ate and could be felt like any corporeal being. We also know that the angels often had these same qualities, eating with Abraham and wrestling with Jacob.
So, what does this mean to us Christians? Well, I would caution us all. God has a great knack for surprising us, the best example being Jesus. No one thought that the Messiah would be this lowly carpenter, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. They thought He would be a great King and General. Likewise, we can try to guess as to what our resurrected body will be like, but we should also be prepared to be surprised. Ultimately, we must understand that we cannot be complete without a body, whatever that body may be. And we must celebrate the fact that we are promised life eternal in our new bodies. If we believe these promises, we can profess our faith in the Resurrection with confidence. And we too can say:
And though after my skin worms destroy this body,
yet in my flesh shall I see God:
whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.