From ancient times to our present day we daily affirm “I believe in…The Resurrection of the body: And the Life everlasting” in the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. At each Holy Eucharist we affirm the same belief in the Nicene Creed. It is part of our daily Christian living to fill our present life with joy and peace—it is our hope, the promise not yet seen—that by God’s promise we have a future and it starts today!
For Christians death is but one point in our journey with Christ. We take up our cross daily as we follow our Lord knowing it leads to Calvary and there the sacrifice of Christ opens the way to life everlasting. Instead of “death” being “the one we do not name,” we must speak knowing that tomorrow we will live. We act knowing we’ll live forever. So we live, now and in the hour of our death, saying “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
While many non-Christians believe in some kind of immortality of the soul, some life beyond the grave; many envision a life of beauty and goodness. But this idea is based on a theory of immortality without scientific evidence of an imperishable essence of our humanity, and with the idea of a temporary partnership of body and soul; The body is subject to decay, but the soul lives on. It is a theory without empirical evidence, but with only a sense that “it ought to be true.”
The Christian has an entirely different reason for our belief in a life after death; it is not based on theory but on the belief in the resurrection—on a historical event that happened two thousand years ago. For the Catholic Christian we pray during our festival of the Resurrection, also known as Eastertide, that Jesus Christ “by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again that restored us everlasting life” (Proper Preface, Book of Common Prayer). This resurrection happened in history in the Easter event, when Jesus rose from the grave. Yes, this is the claim of Christians, of those who witnessed Jesus risen from the dead. Claims are asserted and accepted about many events such as, the Moon Landings and the Holocaust; the rejection by a few certainly does not dissuade us.
The second part of our Christian claim is that because this one man, Jesus, was raised we too shall be raised. This belief relies upon Jesus’ promise “I go to prepare a place for you.” For the Christian, the incarnation, person, and work of Christ are the foundation of our belief. We have witnesses of the risen Christ, many of whom suffered death for refusing to renounce their testimony even under torture. This resurrection was the fulfillment of God’s promise which the Hebrews had waited for centuries; the coming of the Promised One, the Messiah.
For the Christian our hope isn’t in something in us—putting our faith in man. Our hope is in the resurrection: hoping in God, not ourselves. Our faith is in the divine power and goodness of the God who loves us, not in human nature. We assert that we shall live beyond death and the grave because God raises us from death to new life in Him.
The Christian asserts that it is not just our soul but our whole person who lives beyond death. Resurrection is about the whole person, not divided into parts: soul, mind, or body. It is the whole of the person that lives, that suffers, that loves—the entirety of our human life. In life and in death we are a single, whole being. The Apostle’s Creed uses the words “resurrection of the flesh” to emphasize that not only our “soul” is resurrected but the whole person. Christians understand that the resurrection is more than a reanimation, but that our nature is a whole. We are that whole person at our conception, as a child, in adulthood, and beyond our death. We see the same person in their childhood and in their old age. Our path following Jesus was compared to a seed of wheat in the ground dying and then bringing forth abundant fruit (John 12.24). There is a relationship between our present physical body and our future resurrected body, or as Paul writes, of our natural body and raised spiritual body. We are God-created as whole persons for life in this world and for live in eternity.
The “it ought to be” sense of non-Christian theory hints at the natural sense of God creating life—Life is a miracle in this world and in the next because of God’s choosing to create us. Likewise we also have a natural sense that our body is part of, and partially defines who we are. We know our existence, our being, not as a trapped soul, but in the wholeness of our being.
As Christians we talk about death, not as a tragedy nor as the end. Pain and loss, sorrow and separation, and sin were overcome in the resurrection. It was God’s intention of love to create life—abundant life. God wants us for Himself, now and forever. God created us with the intention to bring us, our whole self, to be with Him and be enjoyed for all time. We shall see God face to face. As Christians we see this present life not ending in death, but as beginning a new stage. We live our lives, looking toward our death as “a beautiful birthday in heaven.”
So Christians say, “I believe in…the Resurrection: and the Life everlasting.”