What Does the Resurrection of the Body Mean?

As Christians, we profess a hope in the resurrection that is to come at the end of times, in the second coming of Christ, in the moment in which heaven descends to creation and all of creation is made new through the unity of heaven and earth. But what does all of that mean to us - those that are living in this “in between time” of Christ’s resurrection and the “Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory?”[1] The real trick of the question before us is to try to seek a deeper understanding of what it might mean to anchor all of our belief and identity in the witness of the New Testament while also striving to reflect the truth and the promise of the Gospel in the embodied life, in the here and now.

The struggle with anchoring our being, the entirety of the self, in the witness of the New Testament is to accept that we cannot define our identity independently of each other or of our relationship with God. The struggle is to recognize that we must first let go in order to experience resurrection in the here and now while awaiting that final resurrection in the day that Christ comes to us again in power and glory. In our letting go, we are recognizing that we are not able to possess anything but must give all that we have away in our own attempts to mirror the mercy that Christ made apparent on the Cross. The resurrection of the body, and the meaning of that promise, is found, first and foremost, in the embodied life. The meaning of the bodily resurrection is found in the moment that we let go of our attempts to construct our own identity outside of the identity gifted to us by God, and it becomes real to us in this life when we are able to find the courage to let go of the possession of self-identity and to begin claiming the identity that comes from God as pure gift.[2] It is in that moment that we begin to live into the new creation made real in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is in that moment that we begin to understand that the bodily resurrection has everything to do with how we strive to reflect the mercy of God in the ways that we live in the world.

In a poignant essay about resurrection and peace, Rowan Williams wrote, “The gospel of the resurrection proposes that ‘possession’ is precisely the wrong, the corrupt and corrupting, metaphor for our finding place in the world. What we possess must go; we must learn to be what we receive from God in the vulnerability of living in (not above) the world of change and chance.”[3] To even strive towards that lofty goal requires the courage of Christ as he walked toward the Cross, and it requires the courage of embodying the compassion of Christ in our own lives. To strive towards letting go of our possession is to strive towards rooting our identity in the truth that we find in the New Testament. Our striving towards that goal is to allow the Spirit of God to bear “witness with our spirit that we are children of God. (Romans 8:16 NRSV)” It is in our living according to the identify gifted to us by God in the world of change and chance that we suffer with Christ and will ultimately be glorified with Christ.

The resurrection of the body, then, begins with our understanding that we must live into the gift of identity gifted to us by God, and the resurrection of the body, of the entire body of Christ, is the moment in which we join the angels and archangels in singing the praise of God, Father, Son, and Spirit precisely because we attempt to live into that identity. The identity gifted to us in our creation - both as individual persons and as Eucharistic communities within the Body of Christ - is precisely what gives us hope in the time that comes before and after death. The good that is found in the persons of the triune God consumes us and welcomes us back into that same goodness out of which we are created. By living into the good, we are consummated, completed in who we are to be, and it is in the good made known by God the Father through God the Son in the sending of God the Spirit that we are to strive towards in our daily living. It is that good that we are called to orient our lives in the world of chance, and it is that good which claims us and gives us life even after death.[4]

The meaning of the bodily resurrection is found not only in the hope for the day that Christ returns but also in the realities of living in the world of chance. In the world of chance, we can strive to share the compassion of Christ with all that we meet, and we can strive towards the one good by finding our being, our identity in God.   The life that is lived in God is the life that will continue beyond the limits of death and sin, and it is the eternal life that is the Christian hope.[5]   Just as the Holy Scriptures attest to God’s faithfulness across the arch of the Biblical narrative, the life eternal is another way of affirming God’s faithfulness even beyond the reality of death - death for an individual person and death to creation. Eternal life is the promise that God will continue to give to us life in the places in which we might think that it is not possible, and eternal life is affirming the promise that when the world does come to an end, when Christ returns in power and glory, and when the circle of creation is completed, we will find our alpha in the omega.[6] The end will be the beginning, and we will be “set free from all the constraints and limits that keep men and women at a distance from God and from each other.”[7]


[1] Mark 13:26 NRSV

[2] Rowan Williams, “Resurrection and Peace: More on New Testament Ethics” in On Christian Theology (challenges in Contemporary Theology) (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1999), p. 270.

[3] Williams, “Resurrection and Peace”, p. 273-274.

[4] Kathryn Tanner, “The End” in Jesus, Humanity and the Trinity: A Brief Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2001), p.108.

[5] Tanner, p. 109.

[6] Tanner, p. 110.

[7] Rowan Williams, “Risen Indeed” in A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications,U.S., 1995), p. 57.

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