Bodies Treated As Precious
St. James the Elder, Apostle
25 July 2017
I was delighted on Sunday when I was able to sit in the congregation with my wife and received divine service under the leadership of brother pastors. I don't very often get this experience and when I do, I find it terribly uncomfortable after all these years of sitting in the front. While sitting there, however, I was struck by a particular part of this Sunday's epistle lesson in which Paul includes a reference to the future "redemption of our bodies" (Rm 8:23). The end times theme of ultimate redemption has a strange object to our modern ears: our bodies. My body will be redeemed fully at the consummation of the age. Our bodies are objects of redemption. Christ has paid the price to redeem our lowly bodies so that they can be like his glorious body (Phil 3:21).

The idea of a gnostic-only redemption, one devoid of fleshly or bodily outcomes is put very swiftly to death by the New Testament's anthropology, in which the bodily incarnation of the son of God through the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary is the source of our salvation; a salvation of both body and soul. The resurrection is always described as a bodily resurrection. It is never some airy-fairy spiritual-only resurrection. Christianity's view of humans as body and soul subsisting is pivotal to our view of salvation.

This passage in Romans struck me particularly because it drove me to wonder why we are so dismissive of caring for the human body in our contemporary funeral traditions. Why are we careless of how we treat the remains of the blessed dead, when in fact God has made it perfectly clear that the human body is an object of redemption? Are we trying to undo God's redemption? Or challenge it? Again, this does not mean that God cannot take care of the remains of those killed in tragic fires or by explosions, but over such things we have no control. However, how we treat those who have died in the Lord and their bodies is under our control. Shouldn't that treatment be shaped by the promise of redemption and bodily resurrection, rather than something else? Especially since this final redemption is a capstone to the work of God of creating our bodies. Oh yes, there is an enormous difference, because our bodies have been redeemed by Christ and will be raised, like His, incorruptible. But this Christlike nature granted to us in its fullness at the end does not issue in body-lessness. Rather, specifically because of the price paid by Christ our renovated bodies are returned to us at our final redemption.

We expect our doctors to work heroically to save the human body through the gifts of modern medicine. This is as it should be. However, the minute death ensues, we act like the body is of absolutely no value. Perhaps this is because our God-like capacity to keep the human body alive has failed. We want to turn away from our failure and ignore it. Then we treat death's remains as unworthy of any consideration whatever. The dead body is still a human body, just dead. You can't change that. Death does not. Notice the great care that is lavished on the dead body of the One who would slay death. Wouldn't the resurrection of Christ have been ever more theatrically spectacular if He had risen out of a blazing funeral bier, Viking-style? Yet, those who loved Him saw to the proper disposition of His precious body. His bodily death makes just as precious our own bodies. Let's treat them as precious, ultimately redeemed as they are by Him.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

John Chrysostom

"We groan, the Apostle Paul says, through a desire for greater things, and not to find fault with the present system. He shows this in the words, 'We wait eagerly for adoption as sons' ( Rm 8:23). Are you now wondering about what Paul is saying when we have already had been made sons (Paul insisting on it at every turn, and even crying aloud!) and now Paul puts this good thing among the things only hoped for, writing that we must wait for it? To set this straight he says what follows: namely, 'the redemption of our bodies;' the perfect glory. If we die with a good hope, then the gift is immovable and clearer and greater, having no longer any change to fear from death and sin. Then, therefore, the grace will be secure, when our body shall be freed from death and its countless ailments.

"This is full redemption, not a redemption only, but such, that we shall never again return to our former captivity. That you might not be perplexed at hearing so much of glory without getting any distinct knowledge of it, Paul partially exposes to your view the things to come, setting before you the change of your body, and along with it the change of the whole creation. He has put this in a clearer light in another passage, where he says, 'Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body' ( Phil. 3:21). And in another place again he writes and says, 'When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory"' ( 1Co 15:54). However, to show that with the corruption of the body the constitution of the things of this life will also come to an end, Paul wrote again elsewhere, 'For the present form of this world is passing away' ( 1Co 7:31)."

John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 8.14
Romans 8:18-28
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Dear Lord Jesus, we groan in hope of the full redemption You have promised our lowly bodies, so that they will become like Your glorious body. We don't fully know what this will be like. Therefore, help us to walk by faith and not by sight, confident of the care that You have promised us in your holy Gospel. Amen.

For John Hatteberg as he undergoes surgery today, that the Lord Jesus would guide and guard the hand of the surgeon and all those who care for him

For Karen Cheer, but the Lord of gracious care would grant to her strength and healing

For Michael Koutsodontis, that the Lord of the church would continue to be with him as he recovers from cancer surgery
Art: Albrecht DURER,  The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
©  Scott Murray 2017