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(image is from "loaves and fishes" sculpture, Victoria & Albert Museum)

1 John 3:1-7

Easter 3, April 14, 2024

Holy Trinity Cathedral


“The Resurrection of the Body”


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.


What makes you “you”?  Your outward appearance is probably how others first notice you.  By the interactions you have, people get to know the inner you: your feelings, your thoughts, your memories.  And as you change over time, the ones you are close to observe those changes and incorporate them into the understanding of the story of your life.  Even when traumatic things happen, you do not stop being who you are.  There may come a point when you do not recognize the ones you love, and they find it difficult to see the real you inside illness, but you still exist.  You are still loved and held by God.  And when your mortal frame crumbles away, it is not the end of you.  What Christians call “the resurrection of the body” is possible because of Jesus Christ.  He died and rose that we, when we die, may rise again knowing that we are beloved children of God.


Think of a smart phone.  Not the one your parents had fixed to the wall by a cord, but the kind you carry around in your pocket.  It has a battery, which runs down.  It has a screen, which can get cracked.  It has little bitty ports and parts that break.  And it has a computer inside that stores lots of useful information.  For years I carried around a certain fruit version 4.  Then version 5 came out and I upgraded.  Someone helped me transfer all the information and photos from my old phone into the new device.  To me, on the screen, it looked and functioned exactly the same way. I have had to do that several times since.  Each data transfer gives me the memories of my older phone, with the additional abilities of a newer system.  Once the SIM card is removed and deactivated from the older model, it is of no use to me.  It is just a physical shell. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, small electronic devices to materials recycling.  Within the new body, I recognize the parts as belonging to my specific memories and contacts, the photos I have taken and the applications I have incorporated.  So, is it a different phone or the same one resurrected?  What holds it together in time is the continuity of memory. What makes it different is the form. 


After Jesus rose from the dead, his form was different somehow.  People who knew him in his earthly life seemed to initially have problems understanding it was really him.  Mary thought he was the gardener in the cemetery.  His disciples thought he was a ghost or a hallucination.  Yet if we look at the gospel passages that describe his interactions, we notice several things.


  1. First, he is He interacts with the environment in ways that a ghost or a hallucination couldn’t. People can see him, hear him, touch him.  And Jesus can speak and feel and engage the senses in return.  I love how the gospel of John relates the “filet o’ fish” test:  the disciples give him a piece of fish to eat and he does so in their presence.  This is evidence that he is with them in body as well as spirit. 
  2. Second, he is present. Jesus meets with people one on one and in gatherings.  This isn’t some voice from stage left or a miraculous sign left in the Temple.  The believers have face to face encounters.
  3. Third, he is not confined by time or place. This marks the post-resurrection Christ as different from the earthly Jesus. He appears and departs without bothering with doors or donkeys.  Although he is tangibly present in a location when needed, he is also available in a moment elsewhere. 
  4. And most importantly, he is recognizable. At least, to those whom he loves and who love him. When his followers take the time to really look, to really see the person standing in front of them, they connect the dots from death to resurrection.  He was dead; he is alive!


The presence of the One who loved us enough to die for us brings about an astonishing possibility.  Because he lives in the resurrection, Jesus invites us to follow.  God became incarnate in the person of Jesus.  The divine became immersed in humanity.  Now, tearing through the barrier of death and sin, the gate is open for us to enter the resurrection life with a new body.  After our old frames are worn out or damaged beyond repair, the essence of who we are can be stripped out and translated into a new form.  We don’t know what will look like yet.  As the writer of the First Letter of John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this, when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.  And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3). 


There is the present work of growing into righteousness and being purified in our natures, set alongside the future promise of bodily resurrection.  It started with baptism, when we were washed clean of the sin that surrounds us, and marked as Christ’s own forever.  But baptism is not cyclical.  Holiness is not an “add, rinse, repeat” cycle on some heavenly washing machine.  God’s love for us accompanies us through this life and into what lies ahead.  For centuries, philosophers and theologians have debated the options.  Should we be satisfied or resigned that this short run at existence is all we get, and settle down to the blinking out of the light at death?  Could we be destined for our souls passing through multiple bodies in order to be refined towards an endpoint of bliss?  Do we get held at some heavenly waiting room until there is a full house and final judgement to follow? All we know through faith is that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. 


Sin is still at work in the world.  It is what obscures the humanity of another and makes us forget that we are beloved children.  Sin deceives us into thinking that anything we do is futile or, conversely, that it depends on individual action to get everything right.  Sin takes away the hope of resurrection.  “Jesus didn’t really die and rise again”, it whispers, “so you won’t either.  And even if he did, you are not good enough, not loved enough, not right enough.”  Even worse, sin shoves any chance of a better life off to the future and leaves people to despair of the present time.  Why wait for the end of life or the end of the world?


I firmly believe that the new life depends on love now. God’s love for us, and our love for each other, leads us to recognize resurrection at work.  We are made in love and we are made for love.  Love is corporeal: we can see and touch and taste it around us.  Love is present, even when words are not spoken and hands do not touch.  And love is not confined by space or time, even by death.  You are fully “you” in God’s loving gaze.  You are surrounded by a communion of saints who are still connected through faith.  And what is uniquely you will live beyond this time on earth.  In the resurrection, our bodies will not suffer pain or grief. They will not wear out or forget who they are.  Everything that is you will be transfigured, and shine through a new form.   All those who knew you in this life will be able to recognize you by name. 


There is a thread of memory that reaches across our lives.  Even though we may forget, or others may forget us, God remembers.  “This is my body, given for you. Do this in memory of me.” We hear Jesus’ words at every communion service.  May we recognize the risen Lord in the breaking of the bread, as he recognizes each of us with love.  Amen.