And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you—a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised,
‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’ Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’
Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.
It has recently been reported that an extensive monastic burial ground has been discovered at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. The nature of the burials suggests that the monks believed in corporeal resurrection – that in the fullness of time, their bodies would climb out from the grave, similar to the scene depicted in the painting The Resurrection Reunion by Stanley Spencer.
Later, we came to understand that after burial the physical body disintegrates into its constituent atoms and molecules, some of which disperse into the atmosphere or are washed away. The likelihood of their coming together again at a later time to reproduce the once living body is vanishingly small.
One might expect that this would be the end of any resurrection story for scientists. It is for some, but not for all: some seek to understand what might be possible, not dismiss it as fantasy.
Various possible physical mechanisms by which a resurrection body might appear have been suggested – especially for the resurrected body of Jesus, but also for what might happen in the future. Some mechanisms are pretty far-fetched, but others are actually scientifically plausible. Many of these involve a concept known as the multiverse. In the world of quantum mechanics, our visible universe can be considered as only one of a number of parallel universes, each of which has different properties. Conveniently perhaps, communication between different multiverses is normally considered not to be possible.
John Polkinghorne, a respected scientist-theologian, has suggested that in the death process the soul-pattern which encapsulates the information about an individual and which is formed by a type of matter whose properties are different from the known states of matter, is transmitted to another of these universes. Here God recreates the individual from this pattern. If, for a fleeting moment at a particular point in time, this universe and ours happened to intersect, a resurrected body might appear and then disappear. He suggests that this has happened only once so far and that the fleetingly glimpsed body was Jesus.
Such theories are of course highly speculative and apparently untestable in the scientific sense, but serve to illustrate how apparently impossible things might just turn out to be possible.
What is more important however is recognising that the power of God transcends anything that we can imagine.
Creating God, you gave us the power to speculate, to theorise and to imagine. Grant us also the power of discernment that we might seek to understand within the bounds that you have set. As we stand in wonder at the resurrection of your Son Jesus, help us to remember that its true meaning is a demonstration of your love. Amen
The Rev’d Ron Reid is a retired non-stipendiary minister and worships at Upton-by-Chester and Rock Chapel, Farndon URCs.