We finish up our six-week focus on the Apostles’ Creed this week. Over the past month and a half we have professed our faith, claiming a deeper understanding and appreciation for the words of the creed.
We have voiced and affirmed our belief in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord. We have claimed belief in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, and the forgiveness of sins.
Today, we turn to the final two phrases – belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
As a reminder, our voicing the Apostles’ Creed is not solely a way to declare that which we believe in, a way to spout theological jargon, but is instead a way to profess a risky acceptance of truth that leads us into action.
So today, we seek to identify how it is that claiming belief in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting calls us to live as faithful believers in Christ.
When we think about the resurrection of the body, the visual that often comes to mind first is Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus. Next to Jesus’ resurrection, when resurrection is talked about in the church, it is often in reference to the second coming of Christ, when we believe the dead will all rise again and the heavenly voices of all the faithful will rejoice as one body in the eternal kingdom of heaven.
However, to write off the resurrection of the body as a one-time event as witnessed in Christ, or simply to focus on the resurrection to come at Christ’s return, would be a failure to fully appreciate all the Bible has to offer regarding resurrection. There are other examples of bodily resurrection in the scriptural texts. In fact, there are no less than 9 other resurrection stories in the Old and New Testaments.
Elijah resurrected the son of Zarephath’s widow. Elisha resurrected the son of a Shunammite woman. Another man, who had died, was lowered into Elisha’s grave, and as his dead body touched the bones of Elisha, the man was revived. Jesus resurrected three people – a young boy, a young girl, and Lazarus. Peter raised a female disciple named Tabitha and Paul raised Eutychus from the dead.
For a moment, I want to focus on the tradition and experience of the early church. How was resurrection viewed in the early years of the Christian church?
In Jesus’ day, the Jews had a well established relationship with the Roman government that oversaw the Mediterranean region. Caesar was hailed as Lord and king of the region. Yet, while Caesar was hailed as Lord, Jews were given religious freedom; they were given permission to worship another God, so long as nothing in their religious or community-based practices upset the status quo of the Romans having power.
If you read the Old Testament – the books the Jewish community had as the foundational texts – you know that many prophetic scriptures called for a new Messiah to come and save the people of God. They believed a new Lord was to come who would free them from empires of the world. Yet, this Jesus guy, who claimed to be the Son of God, and was hailed by his followers as Lord – who could have been the answer to historical scriptural text – was called a blasphemous heretic.
Jesus was a threat to the equitable relationship the Jews had with the Roman empire. Jesus was called Lord – which went in stark contrast to Caesar claiming Lordship. Jesus had rebellious Jewish followers, who seemed to have the powers of healing – with the power of God, they gave sight to blind people, and made lame persons to walk. Jesus was killed in large part because of the threat he represented in the chummy life of the Jewish elite.
After the resurrection, the Christian church, founded on that Pentecost Sunday as thousands were baptized into this new faith community, was seen as a threat to society. “Talk of resurrection threatened to destabilize [the accommodation of the Jews with the Romans.] … The resurrection of Jesus is not good news for business-as-usual.” [i]
Not only was the resurrection of this one man hailed as Lord seen as unfavorable by the Jews and Romans alike, talk of the possible bodily resurrection by a multitude of others was even more so feared. Can you imagine the anxiety of the ruling emperor when he was told that this resurrected Jesus guy, who was hailed as Lord and King of the Jews, was going to come back and raise from the dead all who had died. How many hundreds of thousands of walking dead would be coming back to life to oppose the empire Caesar had built?
Think for a moment of those in your life who have died? What if they all came back to life tomorrow? Who have you mistreated? Of whom have you spoken ill? How scared should you be if all the dead came back to life tomorrow?
Imagine now Caesar – how many had he killed with his Roman armies? “Indeed, the message of the resurrection upsets the world so much that the world will go to outrageous lengths to suppress or supplant that message.”[ii]
Our scripture reading today from Ezekiel tells us of a vision. The vision has Ezekiel walking through a valley strewn with dry bones, imagery often associated with expired battlefields. The bodies had been left unburied – treated with no respect, humiliated by their enemies. In the midst of valley, God asks of Ezekiel, “Can these bones lives?” Ezekiel responds, “Lord, you know.” He refused to challenge or answer the question God asked. God says back to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones – let them hear the word of the Lord. Let them know the Lord God says to them, “I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay muscle upon you and give you flesh. I will put breath in you, and you shall live.”
Ezekiel does what the Lord commands, and as God spoke, it was so. The bones came together as bodies, with muscle, and flesh, and breath.
The Hebrew word used in this text for breath is the word ruah (roo’-awk). It is used 10 times in these 14 verses, and is translated as breath, spirit, and wind. It is the breath that brings the bodies to life. It is the wind that brings the breath to the bodies. It is the spirit that brings the wind and the breath, which allows these bodies to have life.
We talked last week about the cause of death upon humanity being our enslavement to sin. Sin is that which leads to death. Yet, as we believe in the forgiveness of sin, we believe that God found a way to overcome our entrapment to eternal sin, meaning eternal death. “The doctrine of the resurrection of the body affirms that God will redeem creation from its bondage to death and decay.”[iii] Because of what God has done in Jesus Christ – through the resurrection of Christ – God will also redeem our lives and offer us resurrection into eternal life.
But to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and to experience resurrection, we have to hear in the Ezekiel text the source from which such new life comes.
The resurrection of the body, receiving new life, undermines the myth of human autonomy. See, as humans, we believe that if we’re given enough time, and perhaps enough money, and certainly the right think tank to support the effort, we can and will find a solution for any problem. For example, globally, we spend over $100 billion dollars a year in search for a cure for cancer, and over $400 billion a year on researching medications of all kinds. Truly, this research has extended people’s lives and increased the quality of life for thousands.
But the resurrection exposes the lie of autonomy. The resurrection says to us, that because we are not our own, because we are God’s, we are not capable of saving ourselves. We can spend trillions, bagillions evem, on medical research and medications … but the truth is, we will never find a solution to stop death. The more we try to save ourselves, instead of finding ways to rely more fully on God, the further we separate ourselves from God.
“Learning to see properly, [to see ourselves as God’s created and God as our Lord and Creator,] requires a retraining of our senses: the resurrection purges the death-bound illusions that previously held us captive and sets us free to perceive the real world of God’s life-giving resurrection power.”[iv]
When we receive that life-giving resurrection power, when we truly acknowledge we have the power of God within us – the breath of God within us – the Spirit of God within us – that is threatening to the earthly empires that would rather silent our hopes of such a resurrection. This power of God within us is threatening to the status quo and to the state, as it speaks sharply against the ideals of the empire. The power of God resurrects all – not just the powerful, not just the wealthy, not just the 1%. The power of God brings life to all persons – to all of God’s created – to all of God’s beloved children.
Apart from our hope in the resurrection, our lives in the world are either random and meaningless, or they are ordered toward death and decay. But with the power of God’s love, which brings to new life that which was once dead, our lives are meaningful and filled with purpose.
And this, friends, this is the ultimate belief proclaimed in the Apostles’ Creed. This is where our profession of faith is more than just a collection of theological jargon. This is our articulation and acceptance of a risky truth that leads us to action.
For if we believe and claim as truth the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, it means we’re not waiting until we’re physically dead to be revived. It means we’re not waiting for Christ to come again to be joined with the heavenly angels who live out God’s love. We’re claiming our believe in the vision of Ezekiel, that we have inside of us the breath of God today – the Spirit of God here among us – because we have heard the Word of God professed and proclaimed. We have been claimed as children of God. We have received the good news of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s risky – it’s terrifying. It’s frightening to the world we live in, and to us, who are called to live as the awakened in a dead society. The Gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news of our God – goes against almost everything our society says is right. It goes against capitalism, war, gerrymandering, privatization, exclusion, social clubs, barriers, fences, walls … it goes against everything that tries to tell others they aren’t welcome, or right, or that they don’t belong.
But as the resurrected – as those who have found new life – the Gospel is freeing. It offers your new found freedom from the weight of guilt, and sin, and pain … it offers you a chance to not have to fit into a mold that was created by your boss or your neighbor or your parents … it allows you to live the life God has created for you – the new life that God has made possible through his love.
“The one who raised Jesus from the dead is faithful: therefore, we his creatures look to him to give life also to our mortal bodies.”[v]
Death does not have the final word. That last word belongs to our God, who continues to redeem and shape this world to the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed. By professing your faith, you are claiming belief in this risky truth. May your life reflect the good news of God, that you – you – have been resurrected and you have been given new life. May your life reflect the risen nature of our eternal Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.