November 15, 2015 AD
Old Testament: Isaiah 51:9-16
Epistle: Colossians 1:9-14
Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26
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Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“And when Jesus came to the ruler’s house, and saw the ﬂute players and the crowd making a tumult, He said, ‘Depart, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed Him to scorn.” (St. Matthew 9:23f)
At this time of the year when earth begins to feel the cold hand of winter, the hours of darkness lengthen, and nature itself in some sense dies, we Christians begin to think about the end: the end of life, the end of the world. But we do that in the dazzling light of Jesus’ resurrection, of which the raising of Jairus’ daughter in the Gospel just read is a sign— a sign pointing forward to Jesus’ resurrection and ours, when in the end He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead. But the mourners just laugh Jesus to scorn.
Now it’s no secret that we live in a day when the resurrection hope is dismissed as a matter of little concern which one may or may not believe, or else is trivialized as nothing more than a poetic way of saying that— well— despite everything, life still— somehow— has meaning. Now this faith weariness, this loss of Christian nerve, this death of genuine hope is of course by no means something new. You might even say that it’s as old as the human story. Job asks, “If a man die, will he live again?” And the New Testament Scriptures give plenty of evidence as to how this hope was then dismissed by both Jew and Gentile. The party of the Sadducees in Judaism knew nothing of the resurrection hope, and when Saint Paul preached the resurrection to the sophisticated audience gathered on Mars Hill in Athens, “some mocked him and others said, ‘We’ll listen to you again some other time,'” more or less dismissing him out of hand. Yes, the rejection of the resurrection hope is nothing new!
In fact members of the Church St. Paul founded in the city of Corinth kept asking— anxiously, “How are the dead raised? With is what kind of body do they come?” And St. Paul answers their anxious question by using a comparison: the picture of seed sown in the earth. Of the body buried and risen St. Paul says, “What is sown in the earth 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 natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
And it is at this point that one so often finds confusion worse confounded because that word “spiritual” is one of the slipperiest, most easily misunderstood words there is! It can mean so many different things! And so today, just as in St. Paul’s day, when we people hear the word, “spiritual,” they jump to the conclusion, “If spiritual, then certainly not bodily.” But that conclusion contradicts everything we as Christians believe!
For us Christians spirit and body are by no means mutually exclusive, since God who is spirit in fact took on Himself from blessed Mary a body and has never put it aside— although that body born of Mary, crucified and buried, is now risen and wondrously changed in a way we can’t even begin to understand this side of our own resurrection. So when Saint Paul speaks of the resurrection body as a “spiritual body,” he doesn’t mean “not bodily at all”, but a body totally responsive to the Holy Spirit who, as we learned in our Catechism, “will on the last day raise me me and all the dead and give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life.”
The life we now know, this side of the resurrection— despite all its tragedies, sorrows, pains and absurdities, its own manifest injustices and intractable problems— is nevertheless God’s precious gift, full of joy and delight and wonderful surprise— truly a gift of love! And where there is so much love, there must be more, always more. And how do we know that? Because on the first day of the week the Lord of Love rose from the dead. And not only on Easter Day but every Lord’s Day we celebrate His glorious resurrection, receiving Him in that wonderful Sacrament which is me the sure Pledge of our own resurrection, as we hear in the dismissal from the Lord’s Table: “The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting.” And so here at the altar we know and truly receive our Savior’s hope-sustaining love.
Preaching to some no doubt skeptical Oxford undergraduates about fifty years ago, Austin Farrer had this to say:
They think too little of [God’s] love who call this hope in question. Belief in this infinite and invaluable gift, this partaking of God’s eternity, is the acid-test of genuine faith. Leave this out of account, and you can can equivocate forever on God’s very existence: your talk of God can always be talk about the backside of nature, dressed in emotional rhetoric. But a God who reverses nature, who undoes death, that those in whom the likeness of His glory has faintly and fitfully shone may be drawn everlastingly into the heart of light and know Him as He is: This is a God indeed, a God Almighty, a God to be trusted, loved, and adored.
Saint John put it so simply: “Beloved, we are children now. But it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.”
And now the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, to life everlasting. +Amen.