Whenever we say the Creed, we profess our belief in two resurrections. First we affirm our conviction that “on the third day He rose again”. Then, at the end of the Creed, we declare that “we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”.
The first resurrection is, of course, that universe-transforming event celebrated by the Church with resounding jubilation on Easter Sunday. The second resurrection is a mysterious development yet to come: the raising of our own bodies from the grave on the Day of Judgment, to be reunited with our souls in eternity.
Death was not a part of Almighty God’s original plan for mankind. Adam’s act of rebellion, however, was a calamity that sent fault lines ripping through the whole of creation. Having created Adam from the dust of the ground and having breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, God decreed that the most fitting punishment for sin would be that Adam’s soul should be separated from his body in death. His body would go the way of all flesh and disintegrate in the earth. This return to the humus from which we were created would serve to remind humanity of the crucial importance of humility.
Thank God, for us death was not to be the end of the story. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity united Himself with our human nature precisely to reverse the consequences of Original Sin. In an act of love beyond all human comprehension, the Creator of the Universe came in frail human flesh to teach us by His own perfect example what it is to be truly humble, and obedient unto death.
But while it seemed to the disciples on Good Friday that He who had declared Himself to be the way, the truth and the life had in fact been swallowed and consumed by calumny and death, the empty tomb on Easter morning is the proof that death could not hold Life Himself. On that first Easter morning His soul and body were reunited, never to be parted again.
This physical side of the Resurrection assures us of the intrinsic value of the human body, and of the material world, as a part of God’s creation. Our Risen Lord’s Ascension after 40 days indicates that heaven is not merely some disembodied state of spiritual bliss but a real place where bodies exist.
In case we were left unsure about this, the Blessed Virgin’s Assumption at the end of her earthly life leaves no room for doubt that in heaven there is a place for our bodies as well as our souls.
Heaven is to be the ultimate venue for reunions: reunion with those whom we have loved and lost on earth, reunion of the whole Church in the company of the angels and saints around the Blessed Trinity, and also the reunion of bodies and souls that have been separated at death.
Perhaps the prospect of receiving our bodies back is not one that immediately fills us with enthusiasm. After all, these bodies can be the cause of so much inconvenience and pain in this life, that we might prefer to consider salvation as involving liberation of the spirit from all physical encumbrance. We need not be anxious about this. In his First Epistle, St John the Evangelist promises us that when the Lord appears, “we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is”. Just as Our Lord’s body is now glorified in heaven, so shall the bodies of the saved be rejuvenated, beautified and glorified.
Bodies which in this fallen world can bring us so much grief have been created, like our souls, to be transformed by participation in the Beatific Vision in heaven. Through baptism, they already participate in the supernatural life because they become living temples of the Holy Spirit. This, and the promise of future resurrection, is why the Church honours the mortal remains of her children with incense and holy water, and why we venerate the relics of the saints.
As we rejoice in Our Lord’s Resurrection this Easter, let us also reflect on its practical implications for us. Easter is the guarantee that Christ came to save the whole person, soul and body. Hence the Church enjoins us to corporal, as well as spiritual, works of mercy. If we are to convince the world around us of the authenticity of our profession of faith in the Resurrection, it will largely be through the living testimony we provide in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and serving the sick. How we live in our bodies now, and how we treat the bodies of others, matters greatly. These bodies have been created for glory.
Fr Julian Large Cong Orat is Provost of the London Oratory
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