When we recite the Creed we affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body”. But we’re probably saying that on autopilot, not thinking about what we’re saying or what its implications for our lives here and now may be. I suspect that our thoughts about the after-life, to the extent that we think of it at all, are partially shaped for us by cartoonists, featuring fluffy white clouds, long white robes, and harps! – all very ethereal, spiritual, and not very physical. However, bodies and bodily resurrection are clearly pretty physical.
The early Church took bodily resurrection very seriously, as this almost throw-away line from the end of the second letter of Peter indicates. The author was, as it were, reminding his audience of what “everybody knows”. It was not just our bodies, but our earth that would be re-created. Recall the second reading on Sunday just a month ago, in which the author of Revelations describes his vision of “a new heaven and a new earth”. And St. Paul, in Romans 8, speaks of all creation groaning in labor to bring forth a new physical heaven and earth. Isaiah, several centuries earlier, expressed exactly that same conviction, as he articulates God’s promise: “Look! I am going to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17). What God had created was, as Genesis stresses, “good”. But humans had despoiled it. So God promises to do it again.
We believe in a creator God – the very first article of our Creed. But not just one time some 13 billion years ago. God’s creation continues – making a people in the call of Abraham, in the exodus from slavery in Egypt, and in the rescue from Babylon – all expressed in the Hebrew scriptures in creation language. And the final act of that creation – the beginning of that new creation heralded by Isaiah – is the new bodily life of the resurrected Jesus, the first fruits, or down payment, on what lies in store for all of us. That is why we re-tell the creation stories at the Easter vigil service as we make present once again in our time the inaugural of that final new creation.
By God’s entering into our physical world, by God’s joining God’s self to it, that world once again becomes holy, beautiful, and important. Our bodies, our earth, are affirmed as good, as the dwelling of the holy, as worthy of the respect and care that God has lavished on them. That is why Pope Benedict XVI, in his third encyclical (Caritas in Veritate), devotes a major part of one chapter to our moral duties to care for the environment. Benedict states very clearly that “. . . the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator” with rules for “its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.” That makes responsible environmental stewardship a duty of every Christian.
“Duty” may seem strange here. Perhaps we think that religion is mainly about “saving one’s soul”. If so, that’s wrong. We can’t save ourselves. God has done that for us, despite our unworthiness. Our job is to save our world, to spread the good news to those around us. Besides, “soul” doesn’t capture the full bodi-ness of our beings. We are embodied creatures. Jesus was bodied, and it’s the bodily Jesus that sits on the Father’s right hand. When we treat our world as God treats it, and, when we give ourselves for others, as did Jesus, then we co-build with God the new heaven and the new earth “where righteousness dwells” – and where we will dwell in our resurrected bodies.
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