1 Corinthians 15:35-49 (NRSV)
But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
Dead as a doornail. Dead as a dodo. Not only merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.
English writers have done a good job of describing death as an irreversible end, be it in a Shakespearean play or “The Wizard of Oz.” But even before there was an English language, there was the idea that death could be undone.
Actual reversals of death were rare events, of course, but where they are recorded, it is clear they occurred to signal the presence of God.
Take 1 Kings 17:8-24, for example. In the midst of drought and famine, God sent the prophet Elijah to find a widow and her son, locating them as the woman prepared to bake the last handful of flour and oil she had into bread. She planned that she and her son would share in this tiny meal and then die.
Once the widow showed Elijah a little hospitality, however, the jar of meal and the jug of oil always had enough in them to sustain the three, even though there was no food in the land for such a poor collection of people. By the hand of God, death had been delayed.
Death still came, however. In a perplexing turn of events, the boy became ill, and “there was no breath left in him.” The mother was convinced that in the presence of a prophet, her sins had somehow become more glaring, causing the death of her boy.
Elijah took the boy upstairs, however, and through intense prayer convinced God to restore him to life. When he carried the boy down to his mother, she said, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
God is revealed in life, not death.
Centuries later, Jesus performed a similar miracle for a similar widow, raising her son from his funeral bier. There was one major difference in Jesus’ approach, though. Elijah prayed fervently to God; Jesus spoke as God, saying, “Young man, I say to you, rise!”
In this and other death-reversing miracles, Jesus gave a preview of coming attractions. In dying on the cross, he atoned for our sins, that root cause of death.
And in his resurrection—his defeat of death—he made it clear that when we follow him, we have nothing to fear. Not even our own temporary, transitory deaths.
Death is not final. We all shall rise from it, look at our renewed bodies, see our risen loved ones, and see the one who makes the miracle possible. Our joy will be greater than that of a widow finding her only son restored to life.
As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Lord, may the resurrection to come exist firmly in our minds, shaping how we live until such time as we experience this holy transformation. Amen.