It is said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. Ironically both subjects have traditionally been off limits at dinner parties. Our death is something we don’t want to talk about, let alone think about. Woody Allen once quipped: ‘It’s not that we’re afraid to die. We just don’t want to be there when it happens’. And Malcolm Muggeridge, a former editor of the English Punch magazine, observed, ‘In earthly terms death is the only certainty’.

He continued, ‘All my mortal mind can know for sure is that this hand, writing these words, will falter and become inert, and the intelligence choosing and arranging them become inoperative. Flesh and intelligence equally doomed shortly to distinction after so brief and fleeting an existence – no more than a dragonfly’s, with its bright wings and exquisitely precise movements darting about in the sun…’

Yet, in our orthodox Christian creeds, we state that we believe in ‘the resurrection of the body and life everlasting’.

What do we really mean when we say this? What happens when our body is destroyed – rotting in a grave or cremated? If we’re one day to be raised, what kind of body will we have?

These are just some of the questions we have. The subject is complex, and our answers can easily become no more than confused ramblings.

Consider what Paul the Apostle writes in the clearest biblical statement on the resurrection. In First Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 21 we read: For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.

When by faith we turn to Christ Jesus and attach ourselves to him, we are assured that even though our bodies may decay in a grave or incinerated, the day will come when we too will be raised from the dead. On the day when Christ returns, his majestic power and glory will transcend the universe. That will be the time when he will give all his people from throughout time a new body.

Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead – which happened on a certain day outside the city of ancient Jerusalem – foreshadows the resurrection of all his people from all races and nations.

This is the theme that Paul develops in chapter 15, verses 35 following. He writes: Someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish, what you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

Decades ago, when I was in kindergarten, my family were living in the country. I recall carrying out my first formal scientific experiment. We were given a saucer, cotton wool and some wheat. We put the wheat on the cotton wool, wet it and took it home. Over the next few days I was amazed at what I observed. Out of the rotting, smelly grain grew new life.

Paul is telling us that in the present order of things death needs to take place before new life occurs. The death of the first is the means of effecting change. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed…

Furthermore, he continues: God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same:  men and women have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another (15:38, 39).

‘Have no doubt,’ Paul is saying, ‘the resurrection of our bodies will be a reality’. It makes sense. It’s consistent with what we can observe of the various elements of the present natural order. It means there is continuity between our present and future existence.

God is used to creating bodies appropriate for different kinds of environments: different bodies for men and women and animals who live on the land; different bodies for birds which fly; and different bodies again for fish that swim and live in water. Each is perfectly fitted for its environment.

It is God’s prerogative to bring about change and give the sown seed its appropriate plant body as he wills.

This is so important for us to know. It means for one thing that God treats every aspect of his creating work seriously – nothing is lost, for everything has a meaning. There’s not some massive disjunction between the material and the spiritual world. Rather, there is continuity.

Paul is saying that while our earthly bodies are suited for our earthly existence, they would be useless in the perfection of the age to come. Rather, it will be out of the raw material of our present earthly body that God will produce a new, spiritual body perfectly suited for the new age.

Christianity doesn’t drive a wedge between the spirit and the material. This suggests that keeping as fit as we can now is an important part of worship of God. Now, I’m not suggesting that we all go out and join ‘Fit for Him’ exercise class, but certainly the continuity between the present and the future order should encourage us not to abuse our bodies. Who we are now as God’s people and what we do now matters to God.

Furthermore, the continuity of our physical bodies in the future with who we now are, means that while we’ll all have a glorious appearance such will be the nature of our resurrected body that we will all recognise one another.

Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead laid the foundation for this glorious hope.

An insight by Samwise Gamgee in JRR Tolkein’s The Lord of Rings is pertinent. Sam and Frodo are undertaking their seemingly hopeless task of ascending Mount Doom. We read: ‘There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach’.

In a world where there is so much darkness, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the bedrock and bright star of our hope.

A Prayer. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen.

© John G. Mason