1 Corinthians 15 – The Coming Resurrection

35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.

The Bard Card

Happy Easter, everyone. I’ve stumbled across yet another beautiful passage in the Bible that makes me think of Shakespeare.  1 Corinthians is another letter from the apostle Paul (whom we discussed at length earlier this year, starting with this post.) This chapter is the climax of the letter, and Paul is at his best: he manages an epic humble-brag that even Polonius would envy at the beginning. He then lays out an almost courtroom argument to refute anyone who doubts the resurrection. Finally he goes on to describe in lyrical detail the wondrous miracle of our coming resurrection.  His euphemism for death of people being asleep in Christ is gentle and beautiful, and sounds Shakespearian in and of itself.  I also love the imagery of the seed being planted as and analogy for the transformation that will take place at the resurrection. But the part that really got me thinking about The Bard was vv. 51-52, which reads (per the Geneva Bible, the translation Shakespeare probably used): “Behold, I show you a secret thing,  we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trumpet: for the trumpet shall blow, and the dead shall be raised up incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”  Perhaps “our bones of coral made” and “pearls that were our eyes” won’t be part of our new, resurrected bodies, as is the supposed fate of Ferdinand’s father in The Tempest, but the following lines “Nothing of him doth fade, but doth suffer a sea-change” sounds like it could be inspired by this very chapter.

What will resurrection look like?

Easter is the day of Jesus’ resurrection.  As Paul says in v. 20, Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” and the rest of “those that belong to him” will follow after Jesus destroys “the last enemy,” aka Death.  This is what Christianity is all about: our hope and faith in Jesus Christ (and the power of his own faith) that allows us to beat death and enter into a glorious future as the children of God.  This chapter, particularly the passages about resurrection, are so beautiful that I want to take today to really meditate on them.

So, will the resurrection look exactly like Paul describes it?  There’s no way to answer that question.  But, looking at the Bible passages that describe resurrection, it seems that our resurrected selves will indeed be physical (not just spiritual), that we will retain those things that make us individuals, we’ll have metaphysical powers (like being able to walk through walls), and that we’ll glow.  More than anything else there is talk about the “luminosity” of the resurrected in the books of Matthew, Luke, Corinthians, Revelations, even way back in Exodus and Daniel.  I love how Paul describes it, likening our differing and individual degrees of luminous resurrection glowing to the heavenly bodies: “The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.”  I personally like the idea of glowing like a star.

Physical and Spiritual Resurrection

I do want to point out the one part of this chapter I take a slight issue with, and to do so we need to start with a little context.  In its formative days, newborn Christianity was developing alongside Greco-roman philosophies that often emphasized a division between body and spirit, or emphasized the spirit as being “truer” than flesh.  Some of that made it’s way into the teachings of this new Christianity, and has been coloring the religion ever since.  If you look critically at the Old Testament you can see how this division is just not there.  The Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon) may be an elaborate metaphor for God and his Church, but it is a salaciously sexy metaphor.  I’ve talked at length about Hosea giving Gomer an orgasm in the desert.  The body (and saving the body from physical ailment) is a major theme in the Psalms.  Paul was “afflicted” in some way we don’t know.  Some suggest lingering vision issues, others lameness, but in some way he was weak, physically, in a broader society that (while emphasizing the separation of body and soul) was also one obsessed with golden ratios and perfect physical specimens.  Perhaps in part because of this perceived shortcoming, as well as being well-versed in predominant philosophy, Paul was a major proponent of this division between body and soul.

Now I’m not disagreeing with Paul that our new, resurrected bodies will be different, and perhaps even that there will be a larger spiritual aspect to them. But I do flat out disagree with Paul when he says in v. 50 “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”  It goes directly against his point that our physical bodies will be resurrected.  Again, yes, they will be different – we’ll go through a metamorphosis like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, but that flesh will still be physical flesh of this world.  I firmly believe so, because Jesus came back in the flesh to appear to his followers, not just as some holy apparition.  He showed his fleshly wounds to Thomas to prove that he was indeed Jesus. Don’t you think that evidence of harm inflicted on the body would be the first thing to disappear if these bodies of flesh were also to disappear? I do. But they were there for Thomas to see and even feel.

Kintsugi is a Japanese method of repairing fine pottery with gold, and I’ve seen it used as an analogy for the healing of major trauma: The scars are still there, visible, but made beautiful.  I think it may also be an excellent analogy for the physical nature of these resurrected bodies to come.  We will be the same, but different, put together by God in a new way that makes us whole but acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of our past life.  This analogy probably wasn’t available to Paul, but as someone who suffered from some sort of physical impairment himself, perhaps it would have made him receptive to the idea of a more earthy resurrection.

In Closing

All of this is conjecture.  Perhaps I’m totally wrong, and perhaps Paul is too.  We do not know what the resurrection will look like, though it is fun to hypothesize.  Today we celebrate Jesus’ defeat of death and resurrection to life so that we may live as well, in whatever glorious form that will take.  I’ll close once again with Paul’s words: “thanks be to God! He gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” Amen, Paul, and Happy Easter.  Christ is risen. Hallelujah.

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Acts 09 – Here comes Paul

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Read the rest of the chapter here!)

Paul: From Persecutor of Christians to Author of most of the New Testament

I’ve made it over a year in this project and have only mentioned Paul – aka the Saul of this passage – three times in passing.  It’s time to remedy that.  Paul’s importance cannot be overstated.  He has been definitively named as the author of seven out of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.  Traditions over the centuries have linked him to thirteen out of the twenty-seven books.  Even in some of the letters where his authorship is highly doubtful, it is often accepted that the actual author was a follower of Paul, influenced by Paul’s teachings.  Like I said, it’s time we gave the guy some attention.

As as alluded to here in the beginning of today’s chapter (and directly described in chapter seven of Acts), Paul actively persecuted early Christians before this divine intervention on the road to Damascus.  Remember, saying that Jesus was the Son of God and Messiah was radical to the point of heretical, a threat to not only Jewish but also Roman authority, and therefore a punishable offense through multiple avenues.  Paul was a man quashing rebellion and upholding the society of which he was a part, yet he became God’s chosen instrument.

God’s Chosen Instruments are often new and strange people.

God’s chosen instruments are some interesting people.  Abraham was a 100 year old man with a ninety year old wife, promised descendants more numerous than the stars after decades of being unable to conceive.  Jacob was a trickster who cheated his brother out of his rightful inheritance.  Jesus chose the socially undesirables of the time – tax collectors and prostitutes – to be among his closest friends and carry on his message. Now here comes Paul, hater of all things Jesus becoming one of the biggest missionaries in Jesus’ name.  Despite their shortcomings, maybe because of their shortcomings, God chose all of them.

I think that’s an important message to remember when we see something going on in Jesus’ name that isn’t appropriately “church-y” enough for us.  I’m not saying throw out all your beliefs and traditions every time something new and strange comes along, but do pay attention to it.  Social changes only come when the status-quo is challenged.  Sometimes that is uncomfortable to the point that we fight against it.  For example, Paul, as a Hellenized Jew, was protecting the societies of which he was a part (Roman and Jewish both) when he persecuted early Christians.

Perhaps we should be actively seeking the “new and strange” messengers.  If God chose David as a favorite son when he was just a young musician, what right do we have to dismiss Autumn Peltier, a fifteen-year-old Indigenous clean-water activist (and others like her)?  Maybe we shouldn’t even write Kanye off, yet, either.  I honestly don’t know what to think about Kanye and am inclined to believe he just needs some help…but there have been crazier people cannonized:  St. Vladimir performed human sacrifice and had so many kids he lost count before converting to Christianity, and everyone’s favorite St. Francis literally tried to get himself martyred by going on a quest to convert an Islamic Sultan.  But they all challenged the societies of their – and in the case of Autumn and Kanye, our – time.

Regardless of our opinion of Paul, he pushes us forward in Spiritual Learning

So really, Paul is just one in a long line of strange converts, strange messengers within Christianity.  It took Jesus literally smiting Paul off his horse, yelling at him, and striking him blind to get it to happen, but it happened.  Jesus shook Paul out of his complacency with the social status quo Paul had been a part of.  I think you would have to be open to new ideas after that experience, right?  Hopefully it won’t take the same amount of intervention for the rest of us.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to discern what is done out of love and compassion and what is done out of greed and fear.  If we approach people with an open but discerning heart, we will be able to make that judgment call when presented with something that isn’t part of our current set of beliefs and values, and possibly presented by someone new and strange to us.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Paul  as we dive into the book of Romans next post.  He was a controversial figure in his own day, and continues to be so today.  Perhaps you don’t like – or even agree with – all of his writings.  In all honesty, I think some of the most abused passages from the Bible come from Paul.  All that shit about women being subservient to men and not being able to lead in the church etc etc?  That’s all Paul. But maybe that makes listening to him extra important.  Even if we don’t agree with everything Paul says, (or everything that has been written about what Paul says), perhaps it has pushed us to examine our beliefs, come to a deeper understanding of them and of Jesus’ message, and taught us to do the same the next time we hear something new and strange.