The Glorified Body

             A recent sermon on the resurrection generated an interesting “Ask the Pastor” question: When God raises our bodies up, what age will they be? Young? Teenage? Elderly? Also, what about people who are cremated? In dealing with that question, let me first offer a few reflections on the idea of resurrection of the body. Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, body and soul, on Easter. He was not raised up as a spirit (or ghost!), but rather arose in His body–the same body that was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the same body that was nailed to the Holy Cross. His body was glorified (which may explain why His closest friends didn’t recognize Him when He appeared to them), but it still was a physical body. And what happened to Jesus will happen to us–our bodies will be raised up and glorified. He is “the firstfruits” of the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:20), and our resurrection will follow. “When He appears, we shall be like Him,” Scripture tells us (I John 3:2)

             Christianity is pretty insistent that the body as well as the soul lives forever. In our Creed, we proclaim: “I believe in...the resurrection of the body.” (Oddly enough, the creed is silent about the immortality of the soul!) My body is “made by God” (which, strangely enough, is a quote from a Village People song!), and God cares about my body as well as my soul. In fact, God cares so much about our bodies that He made them with His own hands. He didn’t just say, “Let there be a body”–no, the creation of the human body was “up close and personal”. God got His hands dirty to make us. He plunged His hands into the dirt and shaped Adam’s body, and then breathed into it the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7) So these bodies of ours are God’s handiwork. They’re not perfect–the fall of Adam into sin has affected us all. So our bodies are afflicted with various weaknesses and ills. But still–God cares about our bodies. That’s why Jesus took human flesh upon Himself when He was born–and that’s why He rose again in that flesh. And that’s why God’s ultimate promise is to raise up our bodies at the end of history.

What kind of bodies? Transformed, glorified bodies. St. Paul hints at what this might involve:

             It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in

             dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is

             sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (I Corinthians 15:42-44)

The phrase “spiritual body” seems almost an oxymoron–sort of like “jumbo shrimp”, a contradiction in terms. The phrase is telling us that the resurrection body won’t have the kind

of limitations and weaknesses that our bodies have now–but they will still be bodies. Arthritis and eczema, athlete’s foot and astigmatism will be banished–but the body will live forever.

             I think that has to affect my attitude toward my body. It’s not a milk container that will be thrown away when the contents are gone...it’s not a banana peel to be cast aside when the fruit is removed...it is a part of me that, through God’s power, will have an everlasting existence. (Thinking about my body’s future may help me get through that fifth set of sit ups at the gym, and resist that Boston Cream doughnut afterwards!)

             And what age will our bodies be? Since the Scriptures say, “We will be like Him”, some great Christian thinkers have suggested that our bodies will be the same age as Jesus was when He died and rose again. St. Augustine, meditating on Paul’s words about reaching “the full stature and maturity of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), speculates:

             The bodies of the dead will rise neither younger nor older than Christ. They will be of

             the same age, the same prime of life, which Christ, as we know, had reached. (City of

             God, 22:15)

In other words, the risen body will be about thirty-three years old. For Augustine, this is true whether one died at the age of three days or ninety years. We all are raised in thirty-three year old bodies. Interestingly, a recent survey revealed that the happiest age in most people’s lives is when they are thirty three! So maybe Augustine is on to something. (One thing I don’t appreciate about Augustine’s argument is his comment that, after thirty years, “a man begins to go downhill toward middle age and senility”!)

             To be honest, Augustine is probably venturing a little beyond what we can confidently say on the basis of the Scriptures in his reflections on the thirty-three year old resurrection body. But his basic point is valid: our bodies are risen in the fulness of beauty and perfection. If indeed thirty-three is the age that best represents beauty and perfection, then perhaps that is the age they will be!

             Augustine also addresses the issue of bodies that have been destroyed (as in cremation):

As for bodies that have been consumed by wild beasts, or by fire, or those parts that have disintegrated into dust and ashes, it is unthinkable that the Creator should lack the power to revive them all and restore them to life. (City of God, 22:20)

Augustine is actually expanding on something Paul said in the Bible:

             He will raise our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power which

             enables Him even to subdue all things to Himself. (Philippians 3:21)

Nothing is beyond God’s power–He can even reconstitute bodies that have completely vanished.

             In our consideration of the resurrection body, we need to remember that we are talking about things that are beyond our imagining:

             What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God

             has prepared for those who love Him. (I Corinthians 2:9, paraphrasing Isaiah 64:4).

So a lot of what we say is speculation–like Augustine’s idea of the thirty-three year old body. But what we do know is that God has a wonderful future prepared for us–body and soul!

             God loves you and so do I!

Vol. 83 - No. 5
MAY 2012