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We shall not experience life in Christ as disembodied spirits

Thirty Second Sunday of the Year: 2 Ma 7:1-2 & 9-14; 2 Thess 2:16- 3:5; Lk 20:27-38

By on Wednesday, 3 November 2010

“Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him.”

The Second Book of Maccabees chronicles the revolt that sought to preserve the integrity of Israel’s ancient faith against the growing incursion of Greek culture in the second century before Christ.

The heroic martyrdom of the seven brothers is a stark reminder to every generation that conscience demands that we oppose, when unreasonable, the demands of the prevailing power.

The martyrdom of the seven brothers is remembered for other reasons. As the brothers went to their deaths they articulated clearly, for the first time in the Old Testament Scriptures, their faith in the resurrection of the body.

The resurrection of the body is central both to our understanding of the person of Christ and our understanding of ourselves. So central was the resurrection of the Body to St Paul (1 Cor 15) that he declared that without such faith in the resurrection we are of all people the most to be pitied. The Maccabean martyrs were fearless in the face of death because they firmly believed that death was not the end of the humanity entrusted to them at birth, that God would embrace and raise up the life that they had known in this life. The third of the martyred sons proclaimed this explicity as he faced fearful mutilation. “It was heaven that gave me these limbs. From him I hope to receive them again.”

While we cannot imagine our own resurrection in Christ, one thing is clear: we shall not experience life in Christ as disembodied spirits. There will be no violent disruption between the life that we have lived and the life that we shall experience in the fullness of Christ’s resurrection. All that we have known in the warmth of our humanity shall be raised up, just as Christ was raised to new life in the fullness of his humanity.

It is against this background that we should understand the clash between Jesus and the Sadducees concerning the resurrection. The Sadducees, while they believed in a life after death, did not believe in a bodily resurrection. In order to discredit Jesus’s preaching of the resurrection, they introduced the somewhat unlikely scenario of the woman who had been married successively to seven brothers, each of whom had died. “Now, at the resurrection, to which of them will she be wife since she has been married to all seven?”

Jesus refused to be trapped in the absurdities proposed by the Sadducees as a counter argument to the resurrection of the body. He simply asserted that the resurrection, while a continuation of the life into which we were born, shall be lived in a way beyond our imagining. This, because we shall then be beyond all that death represents. The concluding argument, that God is the God not of the dead but of the living, is put more directly in the recent translation of Fr Nicholas King:

“He is not the God of corpses, no, he is the God of the living, for they are all alive in him.”

The resurrection of the body embraces our humanity. The life entrusted to us at birth is not cast aside in death. Through the resurrection of the Lord it is raised up and cherished in every aspect of its individual humanity. Therefore, our human life must be safeguarded at every moment, for it is destined, one day, to share in fullness of Christ’s humanity.

  • Liam Ronan

    Most uplifting, edifying, and reassuring. Thank you, Bishop McGough.


    Did not St. Paul say we have two bodies — a spirit body and a material body? Why get locked into the resurrection of the material body? Tha the spirit body lives on in a non-material realm makes much more sense. Do you really think decomposed bodies and cremated bodies will reconstitute themselves?

  • Joe Palmer

    “Why get locked into the resurrection of the material body?”

    Why did the Second Person of the Holy Trinity assume a human body? Did he or anyone around Him discard His human body after death? Joseph of Arimathea specifically asked for His body to bury it in a tomb, not destroy it. The women around Jesus dressed his body in a shroud and annointed it. They prayed outside the tomb and visited it because they knew his body was in there. Then, when He rose again, He did not leave His body behind in the tomb. Rather, the body was gone, the shroud was left behind. To prove to the Apostles that it was truly His resurrected body, though glorified in the Resurrection, He allowed Thomas to probe his wounds, He even ate food (though He didn't need to) and walked with them. St. Paul makes it utterly clear in 1 Corinthians that hundreds of witnesses testified to the Risen Christ, physically. St. Paul, as Saul, recognized Christ in His bodily form when He appeared to him. St. Paul, in the same book, also states, as is said above, that one who claims a belief in Christ but does not accept the resurrection believes in vain. In other words, no Resurrection, no faith.

    “Do you really think decomposed bodies and cremated bodies will reconstitute themselves?”

    This was a question the pagans posed to themselves as they burned and dismembered the bodies of the Christians they martyred. The knew the Christians believed that they would be resurrected by Christ and they could not conceive of any possible way for a body to “reconstitute” itself after destroying it. In this way, they thought they were mocking the belief of the Christians. To answer your question: No, I don't believe that decomposed and cremated bodies can reconstitute themselves. However, I believe that God can do it. Even pagan philosophers believed that the Logos, creator of the universe, is not limited in what He can do. If I believe that God can create everything from nothing, that the Second Person of the Trinity took flesh from a Virgin and, when He did so, died a humiliating death rather than conquer the world, then rose from the dead, how shallow and inconsistent of it would be of me to believe that He could not possibly raise a decomposed or cremated body to life in a glorified form?

  • 'Thinker'

    After writing my comment on the article last week, I realised that ‘ambitious’ (near the end) was the wrong word to use, because that could be wrongly interpreted as meaning that people should not try to live perfectly, saintly, which is not what I meant. I meant that perhaps Christians are imagining that humans can ultimately become merged with God, whereas isn’t that beyond the reach of mortals, however holy they are, and doesn’t that idea turn into idol worshipping humanity?

    Isn’t that perhaps a reason that the Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin’s, The Phenomenon of Man, was banned by the Catholic Church? (His “noosphere”).

    Also, thinking more about my comment, I can see there is another problem with it:

    Since the holiness of a human being (and for Christians, Jesus), is the highest concept of God humans are capable of (obviously the concept of God as a mere mindless force would mean that God would be inferior to a human being which is absurd) means that perhaps the concept of God as human, while recognizing the concept as falling short of what the reality of God must be, is nevertheless unavoidable because of the limits of human understanding and perception. Anthropomorphism.

    Also, perhaps, conversely, if there is not some essence or similarity with humanity mysteriously within the nature of God, if God is infinitely sublime in the sense of being immutable, God would, again, be inferior to God’s own creation: human beings, because human beings can eg, empathize.

    On the other hand, does that latter line of thought make sense because as the Bible confirms, the greater produces the lesser – “Man was made in the image of God.” Every good quality in human beings derives from God, and it would be erroneous, illogical, to consider that because humans have certain good qualities, therefore God must be human in some way, in a sense, to have them. It must be the other way around – ie, emphasizing human beings’ highest qualities derive from God, the source of all good, and that we just have to accept that the perfect nature of God is beyond our understanding. Moreover, isn’t it that God being beyond our reach, in a sense, (although close to us), is what can inspire, uplift the soul, as love ‘soars’? And so it could be said that this indicates that humans are ultimately destined for a higher form of existence closer to God in Heaven, understood as being in “God’s house” in the words of the 23rd Psalm in the Bible.

    Even so, living the good life, and salvation, depends on adhering to religion’s moral laws and precepts. Christians would include the necessity also of belief – in the articles expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, and in Baptism, and in Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the Cross.”

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