Assurances with no photos

I think there's more than just confusion about Jesus' unrecognized body at his resurrection. An immortal body boggles the mind because it's radically different from what we're used to. We're in the same boat. Our Christian forbearers witnessed God incarnate, murdered, risen, and ascended. Yet, we have no photographs. 

We have only words and affirmations telling us the Holy Spirit will indwell and assure us the same as he assured them.  

Image by James Nichols

We have only the imagery of words

By John Pearring
1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49
Luke 8:4-15

The first time I read the Saturday readings, sometime on Monday, I didn’t catch the final reasoning of the controversy. That is, what does the dual nature — body and spirit — of our resurrection really look like? Is the body we get really the body we know? We'd all like to know. We can't wait to find out.

Jesus' resurrected body seals the deal about the heavenly/earthy composition of an immortal presence. I have no doubt that his 40 days hanging around with the first Christians established that certainty. The transformation scene with Moses and Elijah lasted only a few minutes. His miracles took seconds to perform. Proof of his resurrection, though, went on for weeks. Forty days, almost six weeks, is a very long time to see the immortal presence of a human being.

"You thought the miracles were cool," Jesus likely said to a group of teenagers, as he opened his arms to greet them. "Check out what I've got in mind for YOU!"

OK, that borders on inexcusable dialog for the redeemer of all creation, but I'm probably pretty darn close. The point is, Jesus sealed into Christian memory that he was the real deal. 

The curious part about his resurrected body was that not everyone recognized him immediately. Mary Magdalene was confused, thinking Jesus was a gardener. The disciples on the road to Emmaus had no idea their traveling companion was Christ. Thomas doubted even as Jesus appeared to him. Commentators reason their inability to recognize Jesus stemmed from a natural, psychological conflict. Their minds couldn't logically accept the crucified Jesus — scourged bloody and fatally damaged— could ever come back to life. Yet, there he was. They were all, eventually, convinced.

I think there's more than just confusion about Jesus' unrecognized resurrection. An immortal body boggles the mind because it's radically different from what we're used to. Our Christian forbearers witnessed God incarnated, murdered, risen, and ascended. They took no photographs. We have only words and affirmations that the Holy Spirit will indwell and assure us the same as he assured them. Jesus hung around to make permanent, into Church memory and doctrine, that his resurrection was real.

For me, the following scripture confirms the difference of what our resurrection means regarding the full implementation of body and spirit. These words provide the image we can see in our mind's eye.

As was the earthly one, so also are the earthly,
and as is the heavenly one, so also are the heavenly.
Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one,
we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.
(1 Corinthians 15:48-49)

When I read that verse the first time, Paul's repetitive style was dizzying. I think his language and confusing wordsmithing is purposeful. God hasn't just allowed Paul to be meandering. He depended on it. Why tell us in so many ways the same things, over and over?

Sacred Scripture was written and sealed for us before photographs and before three-dimensional art. We must fill in the pictures of God from over two thousand years of scriptural images. The more images presented to us in scripture the better our picture of God will be. But not in photographs. Just in words. 

The earliest pictures of Jesus and the apostles aren't recorded in detail until the 4th Century. Check out an article in Aleteia to see how crude even these are. God didn't want us to have these details expressed in photos and videos. Written descriptions, historical accounts, lineage lists, poetry, and Jesus' parables were purposeful revelatory techniques. 

Jesus was born into creation at a time when writing had gone viral with the invention of papyrus, when the Romans had created international travel routes, and after the Greeks introduced the world to philosophy. Several historical events reached their pinnacle at God's incarnation, but not artistic realism nor anything akin to photography.

In any age of human history, we don't see the things that exist beyond our frame of reference. For the early Christians, the risen Christ went well beyond their frame of the afterlife. His presence was both startling and unfamiliar.

For instance, until traveling satellites took pictures of our solar system's planets up close, we had no frame of reference for their beauty, the colors, and the details of their surfaces. Now, anyone can google each planet's photographs and even videos. We're the first generation to have digital proof of planetary details in our solar system. Did the worlds exist before the photos? Of course, they did.

Until Jesus returns, we have nothing other than 2,000 years of witness accounts, miraculous affirmations, and the mind-blowing personal experiences of the Trinity in our daily lives. Is that enough for us? Are the witness accounts from Jesus' resurrection enough for us? Must we wait for his return to be certain?

This is a two-edged question. Our faith can be very, very clear most days. We know God loves us. We're sure about getting to live with God for eternity, leaving this broken world behind. Yet, when we dive into the scriptures beyond the surface, more profound than the comforting sense of God's power and graces, we often struggle with words. Every now and again, though, the imagery helps us out.

There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the brightness of the heavenly is one kind and that of the earthly another.
(1 Corinthians 15:53-54)

The confirmation about our resurrected bodies and what our immortality will look like comes clearer from the entire reading of the scriptures. Read both Chapters 15 and 16 of 1st Corinthians. We can see why Paul is repetitive and so severe in his tone. He has no paintbrush and no camera. He has only these words. Paul's little details help us understand what he wants us to envision. 

Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.
(1 Corinthians 15:53-54)

The resurrection brings about a complete change in our being. We go from mortal to immortal in an "instant."

Paul’s reference to “fall asleep” comes from many scriptures phrasing a metaphor for the afterlife. A restful, permanent respite from the slings and arrows of life comes upon us like the pleasant quiet of being asleep. Paul says that’s not a proper explanation of our restoration. Our resurrection, and our transition into immortality, will be instantaneous. 

Our bodily resurrection and spiritual immortality combined goes beyond our frame of reference. Sometimes we have to hear the poetry and the allegories to help us envision God's presence and purposes for us.

“The body [is meant] for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? .... You are not your own; .... So glorify God in your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:13)

The resurrection is a fascinating, unclear, and yet different existence of the resurrected Jesus Christ. A telling witness for our own resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead in body and spirit. A spirit much like the transfigured Christ that Peter, James, and John saw revealed. Yet different enough that the apostles, Mary Magdalene, and the fellas walking with Christ didn't recognize him right away.

The glory of that recognition, though, is coming. Our resurrection and Jesus' return, then, is worth the wait. 

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