(a sermon by Mark Parent)
(delivered at the Pereaux Baptist Church)
(22 April 2012 – Luke 24:36b-48)
A few weeks ago now at Prayer Breakfast, Cam asked Gary if and what he believed about the “physical” resurrection of Jesus. He then explained that his question was prompted by a discussion with one of his children who doubted the physical resurrection. At this, I chimed in noting that Jeremy, my son had recently expressed doubts as well.
The problem seems not so much to be with some concept of an afterlife, although many would deny this as well, but with the concept of a “physical” resurrection.
The reasons for such doubts, of course, is the combination of our physical senses being unable to see those who have died as well as the influence of modern science which, in its classical, Newtonian form at least, seems to disprove the existence of a physical resurrection. In the new science of Quantum physics there is more room for such concepts but apart from computers, the new physics really has not influenced contemporary thinking to any great degree, as of yet. When it does, it will be interesting to see how much of the ancient wisdom of religious insights is once again seen as being scientifically true as well.
This is because the world of Quantum physics – the very small or the very big – is a very different world than that of classical, Newtonian physics.
In classical physics two participles separated from each other cannot influence in each other. In Quantum physics two particles can be separated from each other by great distances and when you change the spin on one particle the spin on the other particle changes as well, instantly, without any hesitation. In Newtonian physics the scientific observer is a neutral observer who merely notes what is taking place. In Quantum physics the moment you introduce an observer you change the reality of what is being observed. There is no neutral, dispassionate, scientific observation. In fact in Quantum experiments there are people who are studying the possibility of faxing an individual from one place to another similar to the teleporting events in Star Trek films and such experiments are not seen as fantasy but as legitimate science.
I myself had the privilege of being present at the First Renewable Fuels Conference in Abu Dhabi. The keynote speaker was Prince Charles who appeared on stage and walked around talking to us about the need to move towards a more sustainable energy future. I use the word “appeared” because while Prince Charles looked to be up there on stage he was really appearing to us courtesy of a full body hologram. I was sitting in the tenth row back and I could not tell the difference, if we had not been informed by the moderator, that Prince Phillip was not really there but only his holographic image. I could have sworn it was him as he walked and talked and gestured during his speech to us.
When scientists talk of transporting individuals from this place to that or when holograms can walk about on stage and fool one into believing the real person is up there, I myself do not think that believing in some sort of physical resurrection is too much of a stretch. But apparently many do. Like some of the ancient Jewish priests and leaders they feel that the physical resurrection is all a big hoax. A lie perpetuated by the disciples who spirited Christ’s body away and hid it then popped up to claim that he had been resurrected.
Interestingly, the very first person to make the claim that the body of Jesus had been stolen and spirited away was not the Jewish leaders anxious to depict the disciples as liars but Mary Magdalene who, when she saw the empty tomb, was at first convinced that the authorities at taken Christ’s’ body away so the disciples could not offer proper funeral venerations. Of course, soon she changed her mind as did all the other disciples. And this to me is important proof, if proof is needed, that something strange, something special happened. You see all the disciples died as martyrs for preaching faith in Jesus; some of them in very painful circumstances and ways.
Now I don’t know about you but if I was about to be killed in a very painful fashion for perpetuating some big lie I would quickly pipe up “wait, wait a sec. He didn’t really rise from the dead. We took his body and buried it elsewhere. Spare my life and I will show you the exact spot.”
But not one of the disciples did that, not one, instead they all died preaching the truth of Christ’s resurrection from the dead to life eternal.
In response to the skeptics and perhaps unsure themselves of the science behind the physical resurrection of Jesus, many Christians de-emphasize the bodily resurrection. Instead, they claim that what is important is not the resurrection of Christ but the ethics of Christ.
And to be fair there is a certain logic to such an argument. I doubt if anyone, Christian or non-Christian alike would deny that the world would be a much better place for all if we lived, really lived, by Christ’s teachings and example.
But to take such an approach is to ignore the call to discipleship which runs throughout the New Testament. Some years ago Pierre Burton wrote a book entitled The Comfortable Pew. I don’t know what pew he was talking about since most pews are anything but comfortable but more to the point this is to misunderstand what being a disciple of Christ is all about. It is about taking up one’s cross and following after one’s Lord. It is not the easy pathway but the hard one. Not the well trodden one but the less trodden one. It is about sacrifice and commitment, about financial stewardship and self discipline. Little wonder that the Apostle Paul once mused, “If Christ be not risen from the dead, we of all people are most to be pitied.”
And so, I for one, think we have no option if we really want to claim Christ’s name but to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus but we need to do with commitment to the facts as we know them. You see, too often we think of it as Jesus just coming back to life. We imagine it to be the resuscitation of Christ rather than the resurrection of Christ.
The brother of Mary and Martha who had been considered dead for three days was not resurrected but resuscitated by Jesus. He came back in the same bodily form and was subject to the same inevitable decay which will experience so that in time he died as we all do.
When Jesus was resurrected and appeared to his disciples the scriptures make it very clear that although this was the same Jesus they knew when he walked on earth it was also a different one as well. At first, they did not recognize him which could, if one wanted to, simply be explained away by noting that it would be natural not to recognize him when they thought he was dead and gone. But more than that he appears and disappears at will, walks through locked doors as it were. Is there blessing the meal when suddenly he is not there. Even more interesting, Mary is instructed not to touch Jesus because he has not yet ascended to heaven and even though later Thomas is allowed to touch Christ’s resurrected body he does not do so.
Again the Apostle Paul serves as a guide claiming that there is the “earthly” body and the “heavenly” body. They are not the same but there is, nevertheless, a continuity between them. The disciples all ultimately recognize Jesus but in the instances recorded not at first by physical sight but by the risen Christ’s actions of blessing the bread they were about to eat. And it is then in that familiar act which they had shared in with Jesus over the last three years or so that the scales fall from their eyes and they see him and their hearts, as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus put, burn within them at being present with him once again.
It is as if there are two realities — this physical world and the heavenly one — and in the resurrected Jesus for just a moment the two intersect and the disciples see things they would not normally be able to see or experience.
I have used the analogy of colour to try to explain this in the past, telling the story of two boys I overheard talking in a washroom at Kejimukjik National Park. One boy, obviously having taken a course in science told the other boy that he could not see all the colours that exist. At that the boy got angry and replied that of course he could see all the colours that exist. To which the first boy patiently explained that what we actually see is only a small range of the colours which scientists claim exist in the world.
True it is that we can see all the colours of the rainbow ranging from red on one end of the spectrum to violet on the other but scientists now assure us that this but a small fraction of the colours that exist. That beyond the red are the infrared and beyond the violet, the ultraviolet and then beyond these whole ranges of colour, unimaginable colours which we with these physical eyes of ours will never see,
Or take Albert Einstein’s insistence that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. But while I respect Einstein’s insights, who is to say he is right? Certainly love and imagination move faster than the speed of light. So really to me at least, all Einstein is saying is that if something did move faster than the speed of light we could not see or detect it. To us it would simply not exist. But what if the molecules of the dead vibrated with joy at being the unrestricted presence of God? For all we know the dead could be all around us moving so quickly that to us they do not exist, as all the while they smile at our childish naïveté.
I know I am speaking in analogies but I do so simply because I want to underline the importance of the bodily resurrection for two key reasons.
The first is this. Almost uniquely among the world religions, Christianity claims, when it is true to itself that is, that the body, the physical world is not the locus of sin and alienation. Now you wouldn’t know this from the talk of most church leaders who rail on about sexual sins and the like but if you study the great theologians and teachers of the Christian faith they all insist, as do the scriptures, that the locus of sin is the bent will, the heart’s refusal to acknowledge God and follow God. There were some early Christians who claimed that the body, the physical world was the locus of sin. The spirit is good they claimed and the body evil, even going so far as to claim that Jesus appeared to be a human being but really wasn’t because in their logic if Jesus was a human being he was a sinner just like us. But the bulk of Christianity rejected this view as heretical, as misinformed, as wrong.
The physical world is subject to sin of course, Paul talks about nature groaning in travail, bound by sin, but it is not its own sin which binds it but the sin of human beings who reject God and seek to become gods themselves.
I was talking to George the other day about heaven, about I looked forward to being able to sail without having to do the mind numbing work of varnishing my boat, of smoking a pipe without worrying about getting lung cancer, of eating a huge bacon and egg breakfast with toast smothered with peanut butter and strawberry jam and real butter without worrying about putting on weight. He thought, I am sure, I was being a bit silly but really all I was saying is that world of the body, the world of nature, the physical world is not the locus of sin and the physical resurrection of Jesus is the irrefutable statement that this is so. If so, then why not visualize the enjoyable activities we do here on earth as being even more enjoyable on the other side of deaths’ dark vale?
And then secondly, and far more importantly, the physical resurrection of Christ is the assurance that this life is not the end, that it is but a short precursor to something far grander, bigger, better. Indeed, this earthly life is analogous to the nine months we spend in our mother’s womb. It is preparation, if we wish to see it as such, to a fuller life beyond this life, freed from the constraints of time and of space.
For the non-Christian this life is it. You are born, have a few brief years of health and then begin to physically weaken and decay until the end comes and the curtain is drawn. For such people the only question they ask is whether, as Johnny Cash puts it in one of his songs, “the going up is worth the coming down.”
For the Christian, however, this life is not a coming down at all. The body and the mind weaken as we age, to be sure, but the spirit glows ever brighter, until at last we pass from the beauties and glories of this life to the greater one which lie beyond; until at last we are reunited with the source of our being; until at least we are fully present with our Lord; until at last we live and move and breathe in the atmosphere of pure unalloyed love!.
A Northumbrian King in ancient England once asked a Christian missionary what he would find if he accepted Jesus as his Savior and Lord. The missionary responded “you will find wonder upon wonder and every one of them true.”
That this the choice set before each and every person who walks upon the face of the earth. That is the choice set before you and me. A rapid rise and a slow decline or wonder upon wonder and every one of them true.