Third Sunday of Easter
“There no monstrous fancies shall
Out of hell an horror call,
To create, or cause at all,
Pleasures, such as shall pursue
Me immortalized, and you;
And fresh joys, as never too
Robert Herrick, The White Island, or Place of the Blest
“We will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (I John 3:2). This promise of John’s seems promising. Until you start to think too long about it.
The first trouble with this hope is that you pretty quickly realize it’s a promise to become like a body on the far side of death. On its face that’s not a particularly promising prospect.
Cleopas and his friend were no fools. They knew what happened when somebody died. First century Palestine had an infant mortality rate approaching 1 in 3, and an average life expectancy not much more than 60. Whatever they believed about valleys of dry bones and corpses crossing the Jordan (Daniel 12 & Ezekiel 37), when that victory happened it would be on the day without a tomorrow. Until then, people die and stay dead.
When Jesus handed his friends bread in Emmaus, they knew that this was the one whom their souls loved. But they were no more naïve than us. They also knew they couldn’t have seen what they saw. So they were left to debate this dis-calculus (Luke 24: 36-41).
While they’re locked in a battle of wits for narration, Jesus returns to show them his body again. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have (Luke 24:39).” And again, as in Emmaus, he eats with them in defiance of death, this time a broiled fish.
This time they get it. In scabbed wrists and greasy fingers, they joyfully have their friend back. Whatever they know about death, their eyes and hands tell them otherwise. In joyful disbelief, Jesus’ friends are witnesses to the fact that they may have killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead (Acts 3:15).
But now the real problem emerges. “We will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (I John 3:2). It is one thing to resurrect flesh, and another entirely to hope for its healing. The restoration that Jesus offers demands more than that flesh can be reanimated. Jesus’ new life is not a twenty-year extension on inevitable death, it is a mending of everything that has been broken. Bodies are put back together and made more than they were. The lame are made strong and walk again (Acts 3:16).
Imagining a share in Christ’s life forces our hopes to become terribly concrete. Imagining being like Christ, we must imagine real embodied healing, even our own. But this is almost impossible. What would it mean to envision ourselves “immortalized with fresh joys as never too have ending.” What about all our wounds? What about all our suffering? It is not a simple thing to wish them away. Erase our cuts and scrapes, our shame and vain-glory and you erase our story entirely.
Consider an example. Stacy Swanson was one of three bridesmaids at my wedding. She got folks out to the dance floor when no one else could and made the party last until van Morrison rang out at twilight. If I picture the great wedding feast of the Lamb, she’ll be doing exactly the same thing there. But then the details get hazy. Stacy has a twenty word vocabulary and Down Syndrome. Her summons to a festival sounds like this, “Uh… uuuuuuh… uuuuuh, how ‘bout party? How ‘bout….. how ‘bout …how ‘bout… mocha!”
Is it possible to imagine Swanny as Swanny in the great eschaton? What about me? Healed of my temper, my griefs, and my self-importance who would I even be? If we are honest, we both want and don’t want to take our wounds with us into the new life Jesus offers. We want healing, but we are attached to, and in certain very real ways, we are our wounds.
Here is the mystery Jesus offers today in his flesh. Jesus is a reanimated corpse and more than a corpse. Jesus is himself, and more than himself. Jesus is pure (I John 3:3 &5), he has been raised incorruptible, yet his flesh retains the marks of pure evil.
I can’t tell you what your body will be like in the resurrection, any more than I can tell you how many words Swanny will know, or if she’ll still be short, or bald. It is not for us to say how things will be healed or be set to rights. But it is ours to call out to the one who is daunted by nothing and brings life out of death.
This Third Sunday of Easter, let me leave you with an extended meditation on what it might look like for God to reshape and refashion our lives. If you have a moment, let me invite you listen to Steve Demerest talk about carving out a megalith dwelling in the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie, Washington.
As you watch, pay attention to the patient, painstaking work of someone who transforms crushing material conditions into a place of celebration. Pay attention to how the master craftsman “finds the seam in the rock so that it will crack in a way that you can maneuver around or break it up and take it out.” Consider how his work enlarges and gives room in the tight places (Psalm 4:1, cf 18:19). Most especially, pay attention to the ways that “the rock has drill marks everywhere.”
It will never cease to be a matter of terror to be made like a Savior who has died. But by God’s mysterious labor, our transformation may also be a matter of hope, of fresh joys never ending. Our bodies will, just like his, bear marks of all that we have suffered, and our suffering will be transformed.