We Believe in the God Who Raises Bodies
In the German, the Large Catechism says, "We believe in the resurrection of the corpse." More graphic, isn't it? The Old English had "resurrection of the flesh" till Henry the VIII changed it in 1543 to "body." This is one of the most holy, profound things we say. I've encouraged you to mark it so my signing yourself with the cross. You were first signed with the cross when you were reborn from the dead at Baptism; you'll be signed with it for the last time at your death before burial.
See the symmetry? What happens at the beginning of your spiritual life happens at the ending of your physical life, and all along you're reminded of this by the Divine Service where you confess, "I believe in the resurrection of the body (+)." There's another sort of symmetry going on. I started this sermon serious with the doctrine of Creation; I'm ending it with the doctrine of Resurrection because one is as astounding as the other. I marvel at those who stumble at a six day, 24 hour creation while maintaining they believe in the resurrection of the body. They won't for long.
Luther connects the two, but in his day people had more trouble with resurrection than creation. In ours it's the reverse, but they're still connected. Luther said, "He who can believe in accordance with the First Commandment that God is the Creator of heaven and earth will not argue or have any doubts about the resurrection of the dead" (AE, 4, 121). Likewise if you don't believe in Creation you'll doubt Resurrection. Listen to what Father Henry Cook, an Episcopal Priest, admitted already 28 years ago in a newspaper interview, "It was on the second Easter that I finally got around to telling my parishioners that the resurrection of Jesus was a myth, a symbol of something or other." Dr. Robert McClure of the United Church of Canada said in the same article, "I cannot believe in the resurrection of the body."(Detroit Free Press, 4/19/81).
We do, but not till the Last Day. The only ones who rise before that are those in the Passion Reading whose tombs were opened by the death of Christ and who were raised by His resurrection. Other than that, all the dead, even those in Christ are where they are buried. My mother didn't believe that. We would pass by the cemetery where her father was buried and she'd say, "He's not there." O yes, he was and is. Even science would say that is his DNA there. Our word cemetery says as much. It's a Christian word. It comes from a Greek word meaning "sleeping-place." It was used exclusively by Christians for their burial grounds. If your loved one is in the next room sleeping, he or she is still there. The bodies of our dead in Christ are sleeping in their graves while their souls are with Him in heaven.
Their bodies sleep there till the Last Day when the Lord will descend with a shout, with the trumpet of the Archangel, and raise them. We mark their graves because neither God nor we are finished with their bodies. Graves are sites of resurrection; even pagans point to this by the way they lay out their cemeteries. Virtually all are laid out so when the prostrate body sits up it's facing the east, the direction from which Scripture tells us our Lord will return "on the Last Day." Though once we die we are safe in heaven, we're still not whole, complete, satisfied till that Last Day. Revelation shows the souls under the altar of God in heaven crying out, "How long?" We long for the day when these aging, decaying, aching bodies will be raised.
"On the last day Christ will raise me and all the dead." This means everyone who has ever died will be raised, not just those who have died nice, neat Norman Rockwell deaths. Revelation conveys this by saying that on the Last Day "the sea gave up the dead that were in it." To the ancients who never dipped much below the surface of the sea, lost at sea was the most complete way to die. They knew what you know. Little fish nibble on decaying bodies and bigger fish eat them. But even these whose molecules are spread over distant oceans the Lord raises. If humans today can match cells no matter where they are found by DNA, wonder not that God can call those cells back together no matter where they have been scattered.
"All the dead" includes unbelievers. If you want to rile an unbeliever, either bring up Creation or Resurrection. This bothers them more than even speaking of Salvation. Salvation they can keep at arms length. Creation and Resurrection stir the bones. Unbelievers will show their contempt for the doctrine of Resurrection by commanding their ashes be thrown to the wind. If you wish to be cremated for cost reasons, do it, but don't have your ashes scattered. Not because your Lord can't find you, but because you're loved one's can't, and as Herman Melville laments at the opening of Moby Dick it's truly desolate to have no certain place to mourn your loss.
Deny as unbelievers do the Resurrection, it will happen to them, but their resurrection is to the Second Death. Where only their souls had been in torment, now their bodies will be for all eternity. You all know what it is to scald a hand. Think of a scalding body with no water to run over it, no aloe to sooth it. In the ominous words of 2 Cor. 5:10, "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." It's like a science fiction horror movie where the person with the foul mouth suddenly doesn't have one; the chest of the person with the wicked heart erupts as maggots poor forth. The person who hurt others with his hands is handless. The person with an evil, unbelieving brain is forever tormented by what might have been, what could have been, and what horribly is.
Did you just go, "gulp?" 2 Cor. 5:10 says, "We must all appear before the judgment seat that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body." What have you done in your body? Why do you think it will be any different for you on the Last Day than it will be for them? Haven't you just today sinned certainly with your brain, probably with your mouth, and maybe with your hand? Yet, it's a comfort to believe in the God who raises bodies? When my father lay dying 8 years ago dark patches began appearing over his face and arms. The doctor said those where all the places he had been frostbitten during the Korean War. Imagine if our sins manifested themselves in our bodies that way "on the Last Day." What could we expect but eternal judgment, suffering, and dying?
But we don't expect that, do we? No we expect, "On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ." How come we expect eternal life in the body and not the eternal death we deserve? Because God sent His Son into the body to redeem these bodies. In Hebrews 10:5 Jesus says, "'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me.'" And verse 10 of that same chapter tells you what Jesus worked with that body, "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." "Made holy" is the Greek word "sanctified."
Your body has been sanctified by the sacrifice of Christ's body. The Father prepared a body for Him in the Virgin's womb, so in His Body He might keep all of God's Laws. Every do, don't, should, ought to; every got to, must, shall, and had better Jesus did in His body. He didn't give into the weakness, the tiredness, the temptations that afflict this body and so sin. He never had to say to someone, "I'm sorry I snapped at you; I'm just tired." He never had to say, "I have no strength to help you with that." He never said, "The Devil made me do it" because though the Devil tried he failed.
So why is Jesus hanging naked on a cross between two criminals? How come the holy, sinless body of Jesus is ridiculed by soldiers, by church leaders, by passersby, and even by criminals? Why are the lips of Jesus that only gave kisses, the mouth of Jesus that never said an ill word, and the tongue of Jesus that only praised and never cursed God cracked, parched, bleeding, and beaten? Why does God the Father turn away from the dying body of His Son?
"For us men and for our salvation," we say in the Nicene Creed. This is not Law but Gospel. This is not, "Look at what your sins in the body made the body of Jesus suffer." This is, "Look, behold, worship, receive what the body of Jesus went through to save you, to rescue you from sin, from death and from the power of the Devil." His body was so disfigured by torture and abuse that His face didn't even look human, so that God might lift up your face and say, "My daughter; My son." Each blow, each wound, each pain His Body endured on earth earned you a perfect body for eternity. By the stripes His body endured yours has been healed.
Stop trying to make the modern distinction between body and soul that you don't even feel. When the soul is helped the body is too; when the body suffers the soul feels it. Therefore, your Lord instituted means whereby what He did and won in His body gets to your body and soul by means which touch both. He rebirths your body by Baptism whose water touches your body and whose words touch your soul. He forgives sins done in the body so that they aren't there "on the Last Day" by means of Words that vibrate your eardrums and cleanse your soul. He gives life now and salvation in eternity to your body by His Body that tastes like Bread and His Blood that tastes like Wine which your soul tastes as forgiveness.
We believe in the God who raises bodies, these bodies, my body. You hear a lot about body image, and how women in particular are bothered by theirs. I don't know if that's true, but I do know it's ultimately, eternally irrelevant. On the Last Day when these bodies rejoin their souls and rise to greet their Lord, you will not hear one Christian express disappointment over his or her body. Because as Paul promises in Philippians 3, "Jesus will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His own." Raised out of the very dust we were created from, without a doubt, we will praise the Lord in these bodies for creating them, for redeeming them, for sanctifying them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas