When our family cow died in August, I wrote “Burying Clover,” describing what that was like, and reflecting on resurrection. Following here are further thoughts about resurrection, bodies, desire, and homecoming:
Most of the people in my small-town New England congregational church get off the Jesus Train long before Resurrection Junction. Christmas is a much bigger deal than Easter; Baby Jesus gets a lot more love than the Risen Christ. Is this because we all know what a baby looks like, whereas a spiritual body (understood in Paul’s terms) confounds the very ground, the very basis, of reason? That would be my guess, but I really don’t know.
I do know that my gnostic and other non-Christian friends have a Thomas Jefferson-like, post-Enlightenment distaste for resurrection. For my gnostic friends, John’s picture of the Cosmic Christ, existing as God’s Word from the very beginning, is the only acceptable gospel picture. No messy bodies here, no physical limitations, to get in the way of a clairvoyant knowledge of the higher worlds. The Synoptics never get a reading.
My re-incarnation-believing friends similarly bypass the body: souls persist from incarnation to incarnation, advancing towards or retreating from enlightenment according to merit. While I am a resurrection guy, I find reincarnation to be attractive. It makes a lot of sense; it’s an eminently reasonable philosophy, square and plumb and watertight enough to shelter a human life.
Then there is what my 87 year-old boatbuilding mentor says is his dad’s definition of immortality. “My dad’s definition of immortality,” he says in his salty voice, looking straight at me, “is the influence he has on your grandchildren.” There’s still no hint here of death as an ending that breaks continuity, but…. But unlike the various forms of gnosticism abroad in our land, and in contradistinction to individualistic pictures of salvation, Keith’s dad’s definition of immortality involves blood connections: his dad’s life, passed through him to me, and then on to my son and daughter, and then maybe even on to their children.
There’s blood here, but still no bodies. There’s connection, but no touch.
Perhaps resurrection is so hard for us to believe, not because it confounds reason, but because to believe it without being able to verify its truth, opens us to the most profound disappointment possible. Conceivably, Paul knew as much when he said, “If Christ has not been raised, then… your faith is in vain”. As soon as we begin to imagine how sweet it would be for the bodies we have loved and lost to come to life again, like Jesus did, at the very same time we begin to open ourselves to doubt. We stand there with Thomas: “Could it really be you? No way.”
But we do imagine– or at least I do. What if I could actually, once again and for all time, wrap my small child’s hand around my grandfather’s thumb, feeling the strength of his body in mine; what if I could once again rub my soft cheek on his scratchy whiskered chin and hear him say, “Chris, my boy.” As far as that image goes, it is merely particular and merely personal– the emotional power of the image is merely mine. That’s only to be expected: bodies are particular and personal, so resurrection will always have local color– a particular flavor, a particular smell, a particular resonance. However, because the ground of resurrection is love– and not just any love, but the very love of God that holds us not only to God but to one another, beloved and belonging one to all– resurrection transcends what is merely particular and personal. Resurrection brings you and me, and our neighbors, to where we want to go: home. All the way home: the place where we are known and understood, yes, but more importantly the place where we are warmed and held.
Clover the Cow’s body is disintegrating in the earth; sometimes I imagine a Georgia O’Keefe-like cow skull emerging, decades in the future, from the frost-heaved ground. Whoever is there to pick it up will be standing in grass fertilized by a body that is now but nameless bone. That’s how nature works.
Could it be that the resurrection we see in natural processes on earth is only a copy, a facsimile, of the great resurrection promised in Christian scripture? When all that is and was love– all that held love, spoke love, drank love– will be renewed and restored in the bodies we knew? God, I hope so.