Biblical Resurrection

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Biblical Resurrection

 Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise, O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! Isaiah 26:19

To wrap up this series of reflections on resurrection, I will consider a few of the biblical references to it. As I mentioned in an earlier Life Note, I do not find the Bible very informative or definitive about issues of the afterlife and resurrection, outside of the resurrection of Jesus. It seems certain that these issues were not as top of mind to the biblical authors as they are for us today. Although I do not know the reason, I suspect it may have to do with our current obsession with ourselves as individuals, as opposed to our membership as part of a larger community. It is easier to see generations of people perpetuating into the future than it is for individuals. Two religious groups that Jesus often challenged, the Pharisees and the Sadducces, held opposite beliefs about the resurrection, with the Sadducces denying there was a resurrection. Clearly, humankind has disagreed about it for quite some time, and nothing I say here will resolve the disagreement.

The Isaiah passage, copied above, says the dead will rise, awaken, and sing for joy. The context of this passage is Isaiah’s message that the long string of defeats and history of oppression experienced by the Israelites will end in victory. God will neither forget nor fail to redeem the people. Taken literally, these words point to a bodily resurrection. Taken metaphorically, the passage might refer to those who have been so beaten down by their life circumstances that they act as if they were dead. God will awaken them from their deathly stupor and restore them to a happier, livelier state of being. Either interpretation indicates a resurrection, with the former pointing to a resurrection after our physical death.

In Psalm 49:15, it is written, “But God will ransom my soul from the powers of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Sheol is a frequent biblical reference to the place of the dead. It is not always referenced in either a positive or negative manner but as a place where the dead go. The context of this Psalm is that we should not trust in riches. The Psalmist seems to be saying that yes, we will go to Sheol, but that God will rescue or resurrect us.

In Hosea 6:2, the prophet writes, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” This verse is part of a call to repentance. It reminds us of how Jesus said he would be killed and raised on the third day. Later in Hosea, God, speaking through the prophet says, “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?” (Hosea 13:14a). The context of this latter verse is God expressing how Israel will be judged. It implies that God may or may not resurrect people from the power of death.

Finally, in the 12th chapter of the book of Daniel, it is written, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (12:2). This part of Daniel seems very much to address the resurrection of at least some of the dead, although not necessarily immediately after physical death. The section that precedes this one refers to “the time of the end” (Daniel 11:40). That “end” might be read as the end of time, the end of humanity, or the end of the reign of the ruling powers in Daniel’s time.

In most of the biblical references to resurrection, as with many passages in the Bible, it is left to the reader to discern whether to interpret the words literally or metaphorically. For me, I usually find the metaphorical readings more informative and helpful. It is further left to the reader to decide if the resurrection is that of individuals or of a collective of people, like a race or a nation.

As threatening and frightening as many of the Bible’s references to the end times and to our individual deaths are, there is good news in the readings. All the Bible’s stories of death, judgement, and various threats of punishment end with God’s assurance of forgiveness. No matter how frustrated or angry God becomes with the Israelites, God always offers a way out, a hand up, a loving acceptance back into the fold. Therein lies our hope for resurrection, regardless of its exact nature. Using the biblical stories of the nation of Israel as a metaphor for our lives today, God eventually rescues us from our trespasses and assures our continuance.

This is the 10th 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 4

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Resurrection, Part 4

 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Romans 12:4-5

Last week, I reflected on the possibility that those who have passed before us have been resurrected into a new body that is very near to us. I proposed that our inability to see them may be because their new body vibrates in a range that is imperceptible to us. This week, I want to explore a different theory, perhaps a re-imagining of the last one, that of dimensionality. Basically, when we die, our new body and life may exist in a different dimension, one that we cannot perceive from our current three-dimensional existence. Interestingly, some physicists believe there are at least ten dimensions of spatial reality, in addition to the dimension of time.[1]

As embodied human beings, we perceive a three-dimensional world – height, width, and depth. We experience a fourth dimension, the evolving of our three-dimensional reality, as time. When my children were young, we made markings on the wall to show how they grew from time to time. That growth is a dimension we cannot experience in a single, three-dimensional moment, but it is no less real, influential upon, and important to our lives.

two dimentional creatures

In order to illustrate how imperceptible the next dimension is to us, consider the hypothetical world of a two-dimensional being. This being would only experience height and width. It could only experience depth – forward and backward movement – in time, which it would consider the next, or third dimension. The world of a two-dimensional creature might look something like the illustration to the left, where we see five, two-dimensional creatures. They perceive what is up, down, and beside their bodies, but nothing in front of or behind them.

handWhen they die, assuming they enter a three-dimensional reality, their new world might look like the illustration to the left. Their former two-dimensional world is represented by the line across the fingers. When freed from the perceptual limitations of their two-dimensional existence, they are able to understand that what they perceived as five individual lives are actually parts of five fingers connected in one hand. More than that, the hand is connected to a much larger body. What they thought was their individual, independent life was neither individual nor independent, but one part of a larger whole. Only by dying to their two-dimensional nature are they able to see their connectedness to the lives around them. In their new three-dimensional existence, they are still there, but imperceptible to those they left behind.

In a similar way, when we die to our three-dimensional existence and enter a new dimension, we become imperceptible to our former three-dimensional friends and family. Being freed from our three-dimensional body, our soul experiences life and reality in a dimension that is not yet accessible to our loved ones. This next dimension, which we formerly named as time, allows us to see and experience in a new way, as did the two-dimensional circle now perceiving itself as part of a three-dimensional hand. It is fascinating to me that one of the common reports from those who have had near-death experiences is that of their entire life flashing before them, not as a chronological series of events, but as a single image. This collapsing of time into a single moment allows us a glimpse of a new dimension where much is familiar, but the context is entirely new. What was once mysterious is now clear. I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13: 12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully.”

Our soul exists across all dimensions of space and time but is not limited by any of them. When it separates from this three-dimensional body, it resurrects in a new body in a new dimension. We may experience a sense of this freedom in dreams, where the rules of our physical existence often seem not to apply. The life we identify as our current life is but one part of the larger life of our soul. When we die to this life, that larger life reveals itself, perhaps still only in part, and we find ourselves not annihilated, but reborn into a freer and more inclusive existence. We become more of who we know ourselves to be, not less. In our death and resurrection, the life we have in Christ continues.

This, however, is speculation about the afterlife, which will be considered in future Life Notes.

This is the 9th 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

[1] https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/501926/how-many-dimensions-are-there

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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