February 20th, 2022 homily on 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 by Pastor Galen
I have here in my hands what appear to be some dried up, dead little seeds. (They look a bit like raisins, don’t they?) If most of us saw these lying on the ground we would hardly give them a second thought. They’re not very beautiful or pretty. Most of us who are not gardeners would probably just step on them, or sweep them up and throw them out with the garbage.
These are actually hydrangea seeds, and if you were to plant them in the ground and care for them, they would eventually grow into beautiful flowers that look like this. Pretty amazing, right?
Confusion Regarding the Resurrection
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, the Apostle Paul uses the analogy of seeds and plants to explain to the Christians in the city of Corinth (and beyond) what happens to us when we die. He talks about seeds being buried in the ground, and how after a seed has been buried in the ground and lies dormant for a while, it will eventually spring forth into new life when the time is right.
Paul says this is sort of what it’s like with our bodies. When we die and we’re buried in the ground, it may seem like the end has come. And yet that is just the beginning of our eternal life that is to come. Not only will we be brought back to life, but we will be transformed. And the transformation will be as stark as the difference between these seeds and this flower.
Now, Paul was writing all of this to a group of believers who were confused about life, and death, and resurrection (as many in our society are as well). As we talked about a few weeks ago, many of the Christians in Corinth, drawing from pagan Greco-Roman religious backgrounds, assumed that when we die our souls will live on, but our bodies will not. They thought that we will just sort of exist for all eternity as disembodied souls.
The thought process of these Chrisitians living in 1st century Greece was understandable. They lived in an era without access to our modern medicine and healthcare. Life was not necessarily a pleasant existence for them. Food was scarce for most people. Due to lack of access to proper nutrition, various disabilities would have been common. Life expectancy was low. Less than fifty percent of children lived to the age of ten. Death was part of everyday life.
And so the thought that they might one day escape from their physical bodies (which were less than healthy) provided them with some measure of hope. For them, it beat what they thought was the alternative – that we would either simply cease to exist, or that we would continue to be trapped in these physically ailing bodies for all eternity.
Christian Understanding of Resurrection
In response, the apostle Paul expresses what is a uniquely Christian understanding of what happens after we die – that there will be a physical, bodily resurrection of the dead. Our bodies and our souls will be raised to new life.
We will not, however, be trapped in physically ailing bodies for all eternity, but neither will we exist as disembodied beings. Rather, our resurrected bodies will be like that of Jesus’s body, who, after his suffering and death and resurrection was still recognizable to his disciples. And yet his body was transformed to the point where he could walk through walls and appear to his disciples in the upper room when the door was locked and sealed. In his resurrected body he could eat (as he proved to his disciples by eating fish in the upper room) but he would never again experience pain and suffering and humiliation.
In other words, in the life that is to come, we will be raised – body and soul. There will be something about us that will be recognizable to our friends and loved ones. And yet we will be completely transformed. In our resurrected bodies we won’t have to worry about ever getting sick or dying. Nor will we experience the pain and sorrow or sins or temptations of this life. Our bodies and our souls will be made new!
“So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam [(Jesus)] became a life-giving spirit (1 Cor. 15:42-45).
We usually use the words “soul” and “spirit” interchangeably. But, Paul is making a distinction between our existence in this life (made up of our physical bodies and souls), and our existence in the life to come, which he describes as “spiritual bodies.”
To understand the distinction that he’s making here we have to go back to the account of Creation in Genesis. In Genesis chapter 2, the Bible says that God formed a human being (Adam) from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living “soul” (as its translated in the KVJ) or “being.”
Here, “soul” or “being” refers to our creatureliness, the life force that makes us human. But the term “spirit” throughout the Bible, and that Paul uses here, refers to the divine spark, the image of God in which we were created.
“A Heart Free From Sin”
And so Paul goes on to say that “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust” in this life (in other words we’ve followed in the same pattern as our earthly ancestors Adam and Eve), in eternity “we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (in other words we will be like Jesus).
Paul is saying that in the life to come, not only will our bodies be renewed in such a way that we will no longer experience pain and suffering and physical ailments, but our souls – our spirits – will be renewed in such a way that we will truly reflect the image and the glory of God.
Christian author, speaker, and artist Joni Eareckson Tada is the founder of an organization called Joni and Friends, whose mission is to bring the Gospel and practical resources to people impacted by disability around the globe. She herself has been a quadriplegic since the age of 17 when a diving accident left her paralyzed from the shoulders down. But recently she had this to say in an interview. She said,
“You look at me in this wheelchair, paralyzed for 52 years, and most people would think, O, you’re looking forward to your new body. And yeah, that’s one of those fringe benefits. But I’m looking forward to the new heart; a heart free of manipulating others with precisely-timed phrases; a heart free of fudging the truth; a heart free from hogging the spotlight, believing my own press releases … a heart free of not believing the best of others; a heart free of caving into fear or anxiety about the future. I can’t wait to have a heart free of sin.“
Can you imagine what that will be like to truly reflect the image of Christ? To have not just a body that is free of physical ailments and suffering, but to have a heart that is free of sin?
The difference will be as stark as the difference between this handful of dried-up seeds, and these fully-blooming flowers. We will still have our same DNA and all of the things that make us uniquely us, and yet we will be the absolute best versions of ourselves – we will be all that God intended us to be.
In his book The Great Divorce, a fictional look at Christian perceptions of life after death, C.S. Lewis imagines what our new selves might be like. He describes them this way:
“I saw people coming to meet us. Because they were bright I saw them while they were still very distant, and at first I did not know that they were people at all …. The earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf. A tiny haze and a sweet smell went up where they crushed the grass and scattered the dew…One gets glimpses, even in our country, of that which is ageless—heavy thought in the face of an infant, and a frolicking childhood in that of a very old man. Here it was all like that.”
Isn’t it fun to imagine what it will be like when we gather together around the throne of God, free from the physical ailments of this life, and free from temptation and sin? Just take a look at those around you, at those who are gathered here today or those who are with you at home if you’re joining us online. Imagine what it will be like when we are reunited in heaven – free of pain and suffering, with hearts free from sin. We will be reunited with all who have gone before. And we’ll be newly united with all of our siblings in Christ are scattered around our city and around the globe.
“Never Talked to a Mere Mortal”
What all of this adds up to is a very unique Christian understanding of life, and the afterlife. And that affects how we live here and now. Our view of life after death has profound implications for how we view ourselves and one another here and now.
Interestingly enough, atheist philosopher Luc Ferry, author of the best-selling book A Brief History of Thought, credits Christianity with the novel idea that all people have dignity. For him it’s rooted in Christ’s resurrection. Ferry writes, “The entire originality of the Christian message resides in good news of literal immortality–resurrection, in other words and not merely of souls but of individual human bodies.”
The Christian understanding of resurrection should lead us to have a healthy view of our bodies. We recognize that our bodies and our souls are precious to God, and so we care for ourselves and others. And yet we do not live in fear of what will happen to us, because we rest in God’s promises that we will one day be raised, that our bodies and our souls will be made new, and we will truly be freed from sin and suffering. This is why many Chrsitians throughout the centuries have been willing to endure torture and suffering and even death for the sake of the Gospel – becauase they recognized that this life is not all there is.
This view should also lead us to treat one another with respect, because we recognize that each and every person is valuable and has eternal worth and value.
Again, a quote from C.S. Lewis, this time from his book The Weight of Glory. Lewis says,
“Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.“
Friends, because of Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, we can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this life is not all there is. If we have placed our faith and hope and trust in Christ for salvation, then we know that one day we will be raised to new life, where we will be freed from sickness, pain, and suffering and sin. This should fill us with hope and joy, and this should lead us to newfound respect for ourselves and for one another.
Let us do our best to point others towards the Good News of the resurrection, and the hope that we have because of Christ, that they too may experience the promise of the resurrection.