June 28, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The resurrection of the dead

John F. FinkChristians who recite one of the faith’s creeds say that they believe in the resurrection of the body (Apostles’ Creed) or the resurrection of the dead (Nicene Creed). It’s a belief that has been an essential ingredient of the Christian faith from its beginnings.

We are called to believe not only that our immortal soul will live on after our death, but that even our “mortal body” will come to life again and be reunited with the soul.

St. Paul berated the Corinthians because some of them said that there was no resurrection of the dead. He wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:13-14).

In Christ’s day, not all Jews believed in the resurrection of the body, although some Jews believed in it, at least for the just, as far back as the Maccabees in the second century B.C. During their persecution, the Maccabean martyrs told their persecutors, “The King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws” (2 Mc 7:9).

The Second Book of Maccabees also tells us how Judas Maccabeus sent a collection to Jerusalem for an expiatory sacrifice “inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death” (2 Mc 12:43-44).

Jesus definitely believed in, and taught, the resurrection of the body, taking the part of the Pharisees in their dispute over this issue with the Sadducees. We Christians believe that Jesus himself will raise up those who have believed in him and died in his grace. In John’s Gospel, he told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (Jn 11:25).

Nevertheless, Christian faith in the resurrection has always met with opposition. In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote, “On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.”

What will our risen bodies look like? St. Paul answered that question in his First Letter to the Corinthians, comparing the body to seed. “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable; it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:43-44).

But how, skeptics ask, can a body that has decayed after death possibly be reunited with the soul? Other than believing that we will then possess a “spiritual body,” rather than a corruptible body, we have to say that we don’t know how God will accomplish that. The “how” is accessible only by faith.

The resurrection of the body will happen at the end of time, but our souls will enjoy their reward, or punishment, immediately after death. †

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