This is the annual time of year some Christians roll their eyes as they tsk-tsk over eggs and bunnies smothering the real meaning of Easter.
This is the night when the earth is without form, and void, and darkness is over the face of the deep.* And the Spirit of God moves upon the face of the waters. Then God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light. The seal of the darkness is broken and the morning of the first creation breaks forth out of night.
Whether your native tongue is English, Icelandic, or Arabic, during Holy Week you'll share a handful of words in common with believers around the world. They are Hebrew words. By them the Spirit tells us what the Son of the Father has done—and still does—for us. Together they encapsulate what Holy Week is all about.
We’re messed up people with messed up bodies. All of us. Even Miss America gets hemorrhoids.The Fall mocks us in our own skin. We’re all walking sermons. Our bodies preach what life is like in a world groaning under the weight of evil. And it’s a life that eventually reduces our flesh to worm food.
In some churches, today, January 27 marks the commemoration of one of the most celebrated preachers in Christian history, St. John Chrysostom (his name means "golden tongue").
Easter is the day when Jesus says to the world, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He makes you new in Himself. He gives you a new identity. You are no longer the children of this world, but the children of a heavenly Father. He will enfold you in His arms and never let you go.
Over a million people are buried there in unmarked graves. Only one, the first child in New York City who died of AIDS, rests in an isolated plot. All others are interred in long trenches. Cheap, pine coffins are stacked three high, two across for adults; five high, twenty across, for infants.
If you like the wide open spaces of Nebraska, you probably don’t like the situations in which God often places you. For he hems you in on every side, presses you between a rock and a hard place, so that there seems no way out.
Let’s break the rules of reality for a moment, and imagine that I can attend my own funeral. I’m present as mourner and mourned, dead and alive. Were I to stand alongside my casket, and speak to others of what lies in that box of mortality, how might I describe it? Shall I gesture toward the 6’ 2”, brown-haired, blue-eyed cold and lifeless corpse and say, “My friends, that is body of Chad Bird inside the coffin”? Or, shall I get a bit wordy, and elaborate on what this thing is that’s filling up the casket, by saying, “That is the empty shell that Chad inhabited while in this life, but, being in a better place now, he needs that hollow husk no more”? What should I say?
If the roles were reversed, and you stood alongside your own coffin, tell me, what words would you choose?
Here’s why it’s important: the answer to “What lies in my casket?” also reveals the answer to “What kind of Christianity lies within my heart?” What we confess concerning a corpse confesses much about how deep, or how shallow, is our understanding of the importance of the incarnation of Jesus, his death, and his (as well as our own) resurrection.
There is nothing bad or unspiritual about your body. When the Lord wove you together within your mother’s womb, he didn’t take a pure, clean soul and encase it within an impure, inferior hunk of flesh. He created you a complete person of body and soul, no part superior or inferior to the other, no part more or less spiritual than the other. Similarly, when the Son of God came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary—when God became man—he became what we are: a full human being, body and soul. He assumed all that we are, in order that all that we are, he might redeem. God was not ashamed to assume our human nature. It was not somehow beneath him. Willingly and lovingly, he became one of us. And he remains one of us. God too has a human body.
Not only is there nothing bad or unspiritual about your body; there is also nothing temporary about it. Yes, because there is sin in the world, and sin produces death, your body will one day die an earthly death. Your body and soul will separate—your body will remain on earth, your soul go to be with Christ to await the resurrection. But while this separation of body and soul is temporary, your body is not. At his return, on the last day, Christ will reunite your soul to your body, raise and glorify your body, make your body like his own. In other words, you will be Eastered by Jesus. He will do for you and to you what he has already done himself on the day of his resurrection. The body conceived within the virgin, the body that grew into that of a man, the body that ate and drank and suffered and died—that flesh and blood body of Jesus was made alive on Easter day. And when Jesus, in that selfsame body returns to claim you as his own, he will make you to be as he is.
As true as it is that when believers die, they go to be with Jesus in heaven, sometimes I fear we talk too much about that and not nearly enough about the resurrection of the body. The end goal of the Christian faith is not merely to go to heaven, but for Jesus to resurrect our bodies so that, as a whole person, body and soul, perfected and glorified, we might spend eternity with him. That is our true and final hope: the full experience of Christ’s Easter victory in our own bodies.
So what is that in your casket? It is not an empty shell or a hollow husk. To speak that way is to insult the Creator, to disparage the incarnation of Jesus, and to ignore or even deny the coming reunion of body and soul in the resurrection. What is in that casket is the body that God the Father created; a body that God baptized into Jesus’ own body; a body that should be treated with respect; a body that will lay in wait for the last day; a body that will be reformed and glorified on the day it is rejoined to your soul.