Easter is a time when the theme “resurrection” is central in the Church’s worship. But in reality, our worship on every Lord’s Day is a celebration of the truth that Christ was raised from the dead on “the first day of the week.”
Christian faith confesses, in the words o the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in…the resurrection of the body.” Resurrection is a trust-worthy description of our future, because it has already happened in history. Christ’s resurrection is the central event of the New Testament, which gave birth to the Christian faith.
For Paul, Christ’s resurrection presupposes a general resurrection at the end of history for which Christ’s resurrection is the “first fruits”. In raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated His purpose to raise others who have been united with Christ through faith. The link between His resurrection and ours is indicated in passages such as John 5:25-26; Romans 6:4-5; and 1 Peter 1:3-4. Jesus was the first one to be raised, but He will not be the only one.
What can we learn from the nature of our resurrection from the fast of his? Christian faith has steadfastly proclaimed that the body will be raised. The apostle’ Creed does not tie belief in “the life everlasting” to the idea of the immortality of the soul, but rather to faith in “the resurrection of the body.” Pagan Greek philosophy was dualistic, teaching that the real essence, of the person was the soul. All matter was considered to be evil, the physical body being a prison in which the soul was trapped during its sojourn in this earthly life. The soul alone was immortal and untouchable by death.
In contrast to this dualism, biblical thought sees the person as a unity. It has been said that a body without a soul is a corpse, but a soul without a body is a ghost. Life after death means the resurrection of the whole person. In the New Testament, only God is essentially immortal. When we human beings are spoken of as having immortality, it is derivative, something that we “put on” or with which we must be “clothed”. It is not something we already possess by nature but is a gift of grace made possible by Christ’s own resurrection from the dead.
The resurrected life is continuous with the life we have here and now as believers who have been buried with Christ in Baptism and raised to new life. Paul tells us that God “made us alive with Christ” and “raised us up” with Him. Our resurrection is both realized and future, both “already” and “not yet.”
As for the future aspect, Paul speaks of the resurrected body as a “spiritual body”. In this earthly existence, since our bodies are physical, we cannot fully know what a spiritual body is. Whatever it is, it will enable us to know and communicate with one another in the future state, just as this physical body enables us to do so in the physical world. Certainly the body of the risen Jesus, whatever it is like, enabled Him to communicate with and be recognized by the disciples in the Upper Room. His risen body is different from his pre-Easter body; sometimes he was not even recognized by those who had known him in the flesh. Thus, there was discontinuity. But there was also continuity; they could see his nail scars in his hands.
The question is whether or not we come forth as a spiritual body immediately after death or must we wait for the Last Day and Christ’s Second Coming. One can find biblical proof-texts that seem to validate either position. But we know this: If we live and die in Christ, we go to be with Christ. It is also our destiny to be like Christ, with a resurrection body like his. Whether or not our Christian loved ones who have dies are already like Christ in that sense, we can rest assured that they are now with Christ. The chronological details are not the main point of our Christian hope. In any case, it is Christ who awaits us in death, and it is Christ who awaits us at the end of the age.
His resurrection is the best clue to our own. “Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” except for this: “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).