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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

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Many Births, Many Deaths

 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. John 3:8

One of the central points of embodiment is that the me that we consider as our life is not a single entity. Our life is actually many lives held together loosely by a single identity. In order to understand our death and dying it is helpful to acknowledge that, at least on the physical plane, there is no specific I am that is us throughout our lives. Our bodies are constantly changing, with component parts being added and eliminated, dying and being reborn. In addition, who we are mentally, emotionally, and spiritually changes on an on-going basis, too. There is a uniting force holding us together, but it is in the spiritual realm where it remains mostly hidden and beyond our understanding. When we equate our life with our body, we tend to see our physical death as an annihilation because the ever-changing form we know as our body will not last another day, let alone forever.

In general, we prefer to keep most of the physical regeneration process out of view by covering our wounds and having dead animals removed from the sides of our roads. Some of our fear of death is from poorly understood projections about the recycling processes of our bodies. Our images are fueled by grotesque recreations like The Living Dead and The Zombie Apocalypse. Such theatrical productions are geared towards macabre entertainment and not reality. We fear what we do not understand, and we clearly do not understand the amazing process of physical regeneration. The parts of creation that make resurrection possible by deconstructing old life forms – worms, maggots, mushrooms and other fungi, buzzards, and various types of bacteria – tend to be viewed with disgust, but new life would not be possible without them. The fact that nothing of the earth is ever annihilated, only reformed, should give us hope that at our death our essence will not be annihilated, either.

Our lives consist of a never-ending series of deaths and rebirths, both physical and non-physical. Every night when we go to bed, a day in our life dies. We do not fear this death because we have confidence that we will wake up (be reborn) the next morning. Every time we celebrate a birthday, wedding, birth of a child, or graduation we celebrate a death of the old and a birth of the new. Again, we do not fear these types of deaths because we see something good on the other side of them. We only fear letting go when what comes next is unknown. For example, it is easier to let go of one home when we are moving into another home by choice than when we let go of a home not knowing where we will find shelter going forward. In the prolonged death journeys of my mother and grandmother, my sense was that the closer they got to death, the more they welcomed it. They began having visions of and experiences on the other side that made the transition more comfortable. It is the unknown nature of the life after this life that causes so much of our discomfort about death.

The Bible is not necessarily a helpful source of information about what happens after physical death, either. It is probably safe to assume that the biblical authors were as much in the dark on that topic as we are. Certainly, there are sporadic references to heaven and hell, but the fact that they make up such a small portion of the Bible may indicate that these presumed afterlife destinations were not as concerning to them as they are to us today. There are many possible reasons for that, some of which I will reflect upon in the coming weeks. In short, I believe that how they saw the afterlife was vastly different from how we see it. Jesus talked frequently about the kingdom of God, but there is good reason to believe he was talking about a present state of being in the here and now, more so than a possible future state after death.

While we have little ability to see or understand the afterlife with any certainty, we should take comfort in knowing that everything else we know in God’s creation is reborn and that only forms are annihilated. Because God created the spiritual realm, too, it seems reasonable to assume that rebirth and resurrection exist there, too.

This is the 5th 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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