Our culture goes two opposite directions on life after death. Both are a long way from Christian faith and hope.
On the one hand we have sentimental universalism. It can be the soft-focus flowers and clouds of greeting card theology, trying to comfort the grieving. It can be stories of near death experiences in the popular press.
The general impression is that we all roll smoothly into a happier life in heaven. Death is no problem. It is just a change of address. With the possible addition of angel wings.
On the other hand we have the current media darling of the zombie apocalypse. Somehow dead people come back to life here on earth and it is really, really scary.
This is a very different picture: the body is the same (well, maybe a little the worse for wear) but the familiar person who lived among us is absolutely gone.
Zombies aren’t alive. They are just “undead.”
Christian hope is completely different from both. The Apostles’ Creed calls our hope
“The resurrection of the body.”
Here’s how the Heidelberg Catechism (a classic Reformed teaching text celebrating its 450th anniversary this year) explains this line of the Creed:
57 Q. How does “the resurrection of the body” comfort you?
A. Not only will my soul
be taken immediately after this life
to Christ its head,
but also my very flesh will be
raised by the power of Christ,
reunited with my soul,
and made like Christ’s glorious body.
You can see our culture’s afterlife from here, but this is really a very different hope.
- There is the hope of our souls living on in heaven — but this is not just a vague better life without problems. The Christian heaven is about being with Jesus, being united personally to him as members of his “body” the Church.
- There is also the hope of our bodies living again — but this is nothing like fiction’s terrifying zombies. The Christian hope is of being real people again; real selves in real bodies.
Notice how this hope of resurrection is rooted in the biblical portrait of Jesus. We are raised by Christ’s power. We are taken to be with Christ. And, crucially, we are made like Christ, specifically in his resurrected state.
Christ is the one who rose from the grave on Easter morning. He’d been alive. He’d been really dead. And then, shockingly, he was alive again. It was frightening — people just don’t do that.
Then, in his resurrected state, he proved to be really himself — but not merely his old self. He was now beyond dying, whole and able to lead us to new life.
In this earthly life we are ever plagued by our brokenness and weakness, our sins and harmful habits, and all the consequences of the life we’ve lived.
Our hope in the resurrection is that we will be really ourselves, but no longer merely ourselves. Brokenness healed, true nature restored, able to live and love as we were first created to do. We will be like Jesus, the one who is truly human.
What comes to mind for you when you think about the promise of resurrection?
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