Resurrection, Part 3

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Resurrection, Part 3

 Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. Luke 20:36

The reoccurring life pattern of birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth is found all around us, from trees and shrubs to animals to mountains to the changing seasons to our daily, monthly, and annual cycles of being. It is so common, we take it for granted and barely notice. Physical life springs forth, thrives for a time, declines, and dies. We interpret that as the end, but it is only an ending, a necessary requirement for a new beginning. The physical form is broken down into its component parts so they can be reformed into a new life, and the cycle begins again. Detecting and believing in the resurrection of physical life is relatively because it is evident all around us. Resurrection of our spiritual essence is less obvious and therefore more difficult to imagine.

Jesus’ followers did not recognize his resurrected form until he spoke to them. They had witnessed his physical death on the cross but could not recognize his new body without additional clues. In a similar way, I recognized my grandmother’s post-death presence. They were not dead, as in annihilated, but were changed. How can we reconcile such a change in a way consistent with other life experiences and with what we learn from science? Here is one hypothesis that I find helpful.

The science of physics tells us that everything vibrates along particular frequencies. We experience this as light and sound. We recognize various wavelengths of light as different colors, and other wavelengths of vibration as different sounds. Our senses, however, are only capable of detecting a infinitesimal range of the possible vibratory frequencies. For example, infrared and x-ray frequencies are invisible to our eyes, as radio waves are to our ears, but we know and use them anyway. Because frequencies exist along an infinite spectrum, we can be certain that there are infinite realms of vibratory realities – colors, sounds, and life – that seem not to exist in our reality because we are blind and deaf to them, at least without additional clues. Researchers have now learned that the sounds emitted by whales, which have been known for many years, have sub-frequencies within them that likely account for even more sophisticated communication than we ever imagined. The same is almost certainly true for other animals and, I suspect, for trees, rocks, and everything in the created universe. The complexity and immensity of vibratory possibilities is simply too enormous to imagine or comprehend by our human understanding.

As we reflect upon the seemingly empty space around us – the air we breathe, the space between the furnishings in our homes, the distance between planets – it seems not too much of a stretch to believe these areas are filled with all sorts of life we cannot detect because of our inability to perceive outside of our accessible vibration ranges. I suspect that when we die, in the absence of a physical body weighing it down, our soul vibrates at a level imperceptible to human senses, but continues its life in a new “body” and environment, not completely unlike the one we know now. This helps to explain why we can often feel the presence of departed loved ones, but not see them as we once did.

Because some of us have had encounters with those who have died, as did the disciples with Jesus, I suspect these encounters occur sometimes when we are receptive to them and when our departed loved ones are able to adjust their vibratory range to one we can perceive, albeit imperfectly. The fact that these encounters tend to be brief and don’t necessarily happen for long periods after the passing of our loved ones makes me think these dear, departed souls have entered a new life in a new world. They know we will rejoin them in what will seem the briefest of instants, at least from their eternal perspective.

The main point is that Jesus conquered death, saving us from the fear of annihilation, by showing us what happens. He went through death’s gate and revealed himself from the other side. He called himself the Son of Man, or the descendant of humankind, because he was what we all are to become as we pass from this physical existence and experience a more perfected version of what we are today. Resurrection occurs, not as a copy of this life, but as a new version of this life in our resurrected form.

This is the 8th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000

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Resurrection, Part 2

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Resurrection, Part 2

 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Luke 24:36-37

It is ironic, though not intentional, that this reflection will first be published on Halloween. It may not be a coincidence, but I find it interesting. What follows could be considered a ghost story, but I consider it a hopeful tale of resurrection.

My Grandma Hildenbrand’s funeral was on the afternoon of Christmas Eve in 1982. Grandma was, and still is, a strong and inspiring influence in my life. She was an insightful and faithful soul who saw the good in me long before I could see it in myself. Her vision and example have been something of a thread running through my life, pulling me through my own blind stumblings, and encouraging me toward areas of light I could not see. The afternoon of her funeral was a grey, chilly day, and at her graveside service I saw her. She was not solid, as she had been a few days earlier. She was more like a silent mist passing among those she loved, assuring us of her continued presence and of her unfailing love for us. I felt her hug me. She was there in some sort of resurrected body. If I looked directly at her, I could not see her. She was only visible in indirect glances. Some might say it was an illusory product of my grief, but no one will convince me. Grandma’s form may have been ethereal, but her presence was unmistakable.

When I read the accounts of Jesus’ post-death appearances, I cannot help but be reminded of my grandmother’s post-death appearance. In Luke’s account, Jesus’ disciples thought they were seeing a ghost, and they were terrified. I think we need to reassess our perceptions of ghosts. We have too easily fallen for the tag line that sells movies and other media that non-physical beings are somehow unnatural, dangerous, and frightening. Could it be that they frighten us only because we do not understand their nature? I was not frightened by the appearance of my grandmother because I knew her. The disciples and followers of Jesus were not frightened of his resurrected appearances, once they understood who it was, because they knew him. Indeed, his first words were often, “Do not be afraid.” When we give in to our initial fears, we gain nothing from the experience except terror.

I believe one reason we do not have more frequent conscious encounters with non-physical beings is their understanding of and compassion for our uneasiness with such encounters. Even so, that doesn’t mean non-physical beings are not around us all the time. Many people recognize and name such presences as guardian angels. On the first Sunday of every November, churches celebrate All Saints Day, a recognition of family and church members who have crossed over in the past year, affirming that they remain with us in spirit. Christians believe in the Communion of Saints, which is an affirmation that those who have gone before us continue with us. These types of spiritual presences that have their being alongside ours are far from the Halloweenish stuff of nightmares and horror flicks. Rather, they are angels among us.

I do not want to be overly casual about the loss of those we love. Grief and loss are real, life-altering, pain-inducing experiences that never fully resolve for us on earth. We wonder how those who loved us so much could leave us so completely. In the months after my father’s death, I received a message in a dream that there would come a time when my time without him would seem no more significant than if he had made a trip to the grocery store. Clearly, that time is after our earthly passing.

When Mary recognized Jesus, she reached for him and he said, “Do not hold on to me” (John 20:17). He explained that he would be ascending to the Father. I understand this to mean that his physical embodiment, as Mary knew it, had ended, even though he was still and would continue to be spiritually present with her. I believe our loved ones never actually leave us, although they disappear from our conscious, physical awareness. In time, we learn to better let go and move on with our lives.

I will share additional thoughts on resurrected bodies next week.

This is the 7th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000

Resurrection, Part 1

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Resurrection, Part 1

 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again. Luke 18:33

For Christians, the reference point for resurrection is found in the story of Jesus, as recorded in the Bible. Throughout the Gospels, he predicts that he will be killed and, on the third day, resurrected. Near the end of each Gospel, that is exactly what happens. Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is said to have brought dead people back to life, as in the story of Lazarus (John 11) and the son of the woman from Nain (Luke 7:11-17). Interestingly, it appears that even Jesus’ closest followers did not believe his resurrection narrative. They were clueless when they found his empty tomb on the morning of the third day after his death, suspecting that someone had stolen his body.

It was only after Jesus began making post-death appearances that his disciples believed that he had, indeed, been resurrected. The biblical record, however, indicates that Jesus was not resurrected into the same form he had when he was Jesus of Nazareth. Although he retained some remnants of his former body, like the holes in his feet, hands, and side (John 20:26-29), he was consistently not recognized until he spoke, and sometimes not even then. Mary Magdalene was the first to see his resurrected form as she visited the tomb on the morning of the third day. She mistook Jesus for the gardener (John 20:14-16), not recognizing him until he spoke her name. On another occasion, Jesus was standing on the beach of the Sea of Tiberias in the morning as seven of his disciples were returning from a night of fishing (John 21:1-14). Again, he was seen, but not recognized until he spoke. Even then, there was doubt. Jesus walked and talked with two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, completely unrecognized until he broke and blessed bread with them at the evening meal (Luke 24:13-35). Even the most faithful among us must wonder how it was that those closest to Jesus did not recognize his resurrected form until he spoke or did something that indicated his identity.

The resurrected body of Jesus could pass through locked doors (John 20:19-21), although his new body could apparently be touched (Luke 24:38-40). Following a meal on the day of the walk to Emmaus, Jesus suddenly vanished from his disciples’ sight (Luke 24:30-31), as if into thin air. It is clear, if the biblical record is to be believed, that Jesus was resurrected into something other than a typical human form. It is also clear that Jesus’ resurrected form retained some similarities to his pre-death body. His scars remained, his voice was recognized by some, but his presence, once attended to, was clearly recognizable.

After appearing off and on for 40 days, Jesus’ resurrected body was “taken up into heaven” (Mark 16:1). Jesus told his disciples that God would send the Holy Spirit after his death to “teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). So, even Jesus’ resurrected form did not remain an obvious part of earthly life for long. Rather, Jesus was (and is) present with them (and us) through the Holy Spirit, meaning in the spiritual, or non-physical realm.

I believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection is our story, too. Jesus referred to himself as the Son of Man 78 times in the Gospels, usually in the third person. Others often referred to Jesus as the Son of God, but Jesus referred to himself as an enlightened human. Once he awakened to his oneness with God, he assumed his status as fully God and fully human. The somewhat nebulous term, Son of Man, refers to a human who has been reborn to become Christ-like. Such a rebirth unites our physical and spiritual natures. Jesus was 100% spirit and 100% human, as are we. This reuniting, or rebirth, is an awakening to a reality that is already present in all of us. Only after we awaken to it, however, can we consciously act from both our spiritual and human centers, as Jesus did, and become true followers of Christ. And once we have awakened to the spiritual side of our nature, we know that our spiritual nature – our core essence – is eternal and not dependent upon an earthly body.

Jesus not only set the example for us to follow in this life, Jesus also gave us a glimpse of the afterlife, too, not the least of which was the insight that earthly death is not the end. To be continued…

This is the 6th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at ghildenbrand@sunflower.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000