Anybody here ever order anything on-line? A book from Amazon, or toiletries, or clothes, or cleaning supplies, or food? You can now buy just about anything on-line. And when you buy something it comes to your door in a box. And in the box is packing material, and then the item is itself often sealed in a hard plastic shell. You take off all that stuff and you finally get your item. But what do you do with all the packaging? You pitch it. Hopefully you recycle it, but you throw it away because if you didn’t, soon you would be overwhelmed with empty cartons and mounds of Styrofoam peanuts and packing material.
So it is natural for us to think of the packaging as useful but expendable. Once it serves its purpose we trash it and dispose of it.
Now, what about your body? Is it a convenient, useful wrapper for “YOU” – whatever that may be – that once it serves its purpose is discarded and trashed, OR is your body something more? Is it intimately and intrinsically a part of “YOU”?
We Christians have a very definite and firm answer to this question. Your body IS you. Period.
Recently the Vatican issued a statement about cremation. It really stated nothing new. But it caused a lot of comment and even upset, because at least in part I think people are confused about what our belief in the Resurrection of the body really means.
For some religions escape from the physical world, from the corporeal, from matter, from the body, is the goal. To be spiritual is to be free of the physical and material and all its constraints.
BUT, this was not the belief of the Jews, and not what we have inherited.
So in the first reading today we hear from the young man being killed: “from God I hope to receive them (hands) again” And “the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever”.
For these Jews and for us Christians, the body is not just the packaging of our true selves. Not just the wrapper we will shed off at death and dispose of, to be discarded, forgotten. Somehow, our body is going to share in immortality. More, our body is us. We must take the body seriously. We are going to be with it a loooooooong time.
How are we to understand “resurrection”? We know that the physical atoms that compose our bodies are being changed all the time. The atoms that made me up when I was born nearly 66 years ago are no longer with me. And when I die my body will decompose, and the atoms that make me up will become soil and minerals and plants and eventually other animals. So obviously, resurrection does NOT mean that the physical atoms that make up my body will be reassembled into the overweight, suffering from hypertension, bald body that I am today, (thanks be to God!)
To think that literally is to get stuck into the strange problems of the Sadducees in the Gospel. “Whose wife will she be?” They are unimaginatively thinking of resurrection like the resuscitation of a corpse. When Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, that was not a resurrection. Lazarus grew old and died again. Resurrection on the other hand is a whole new way of being.
Rather, we have to expand our concepts, think “out of the box”, or in this case, out of the coffin. We need to give God much more room to work. We need to look more closely at the body and its meaning.
Because it is so close to us we tend not to ask the question: “What is my body?” But let us do that. My body is my way of being in the world. I, Fr Chuck, am in Austin, not in Berkeley, nor Sweden, nor anywhere else in the world, because my body is here. My body grounds me, gives me a location.
My body is “where I’m at” in more ways than one. Because my body expresses my moods and feelings. People say, ‘you look tired,’ or ‘you look happy’, ‘you look perplexed’, or more frequently, ‘grumpy’, or whatever. Our bodies put us into the world, identify us and reveal us. It is because of our bodies that I am me and you are you. Our identity and our individuality are expressed, made present and real, by our bodies. If we had no body, we’d be ‘nobody’. It is by our body that we love, that we pray, that we work, that we feel, that we think, that we be. We need our body to be our self. In fact, our body is our “self”.
So resurrection of the body means that we will continue to exist as individuals, in all of our unique identity. Our spirits do not return to some amorphous pool of life force, indistinguishable from all the rest of the energy of life, but rather each of us, as our unique self, will continue, because we will be raised up in the body.
St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, had to deal with these issues. He said: “But someone may say, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come back?" You fool! What you sow is not brought to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat, perhaps, or of some other kind; but God gives it a body as he chooses, and to each of the seeds its own body.” In another place, Paul uses the example of an acorn: you plant an acorn and what you get is not a big acorn but rather an oak tree. The two are connected but different. Paul continues: So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.” [1 Cor 15:35-8, 42-44]
So, St. Paul tells us that what is raised is not the physical body, but a spiritual body; whatever that is. Paul doesn’t try to tell us, because it is beyond our concepts, other than that it is incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual. But whatever this resurrected body is, it will be ME: in my unique personality, individuality and identity. ME - Chuck Kullmann - for all eternity.
This means that not only for this life, but for all eternity, every one of us is unique. Each one of us is special. Each one of us is precious. We are not just so many interchangeable parts. Each of us is a unique piece in the grand mosaic of God’s creation, and no one else can take our place.
What you see next to you, sitting on your right and left, in front and behind, are not just “other people” who get in the way, a crowd of bodies, some young, some old, some plain, some attractive and some ugly, but rather individuals waiting transformation into resurrected bodies that are incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual. The seed of eternal life is planted in every one of them, waiting to blaze forth in glory.
That is why we are called to have profound respect for our bodies, even in death. That is why the Vatican is concerned about scattering of ashes, about ashes made into jewelry, about ashes set on the mantle as pieces of bric-a-brac.
Our bodies deserve great honor because they are to be raised up in glory. They are NOT disposable, for they have an eternal destiny of glory.
We need to open the eyes of our hearts, so as not to be blind to the power of God, like the Sadducees were, but rather to glimpse the great things God has in store for us. We look to be raised up and share in the fullness of life, forever.
That is why we sing in our Responsorial Psalm, “Lord, when your glory appears, my joy will be full.”