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.
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
Everything we know, we know through our bodies. The taste of an apple, the warmth of a hug, the pain of a bruise – these we know through our bodies. But what kind of bodies will we have in heaven? Will I have no body, or a different body? Will I just be a spirit, and how will anyone recognise me? Such amazing questions lead onto others, about how our body and sense of self are utterly connected. As I work in a hospital people ask me: do we stay the same age we were at death when we reach heaven? Among friends, the question is will disabled people still be disabled in heaven? Does that question feel different if we imagine it in relation to a person with Motor Neurone Disease and another person whose whole life was shaped by Down’s Syndrome.
I want to ask Paul what he imagines about race in heaven, about transgendered bodies, autistic bodies. I’m sure that he came across such bodies in his own time. I want to be reassured that the bodies which are disdained, maligned, abused and hurt in this world will be celebrated, restored, and tended to in the next. I trust that the God who made us in such diverse image in this world will gather that diversity into heaven. And although I don’t know if these are the right questions, they remind us that our understanding of heavenly bodies shapes the way we live here and now.
And for now we have this: the fact that perishable bodies pass away, and with them pain, and with them stigma, and with them our limited human understanding. But beyond this God endures in all God’s glory, and we emerge again, renewed, awakened, and – in our own way – also glorious.
Nothing distress you, nothing affright you, everything passes, God will abide. Patient endeavour Accomplishes all things; Who God possesses Needs nought beside.
See the world’s glory! Fading its splendour, everything passes, all is denied. Look ever homeward to the eternal; faithful in promise God will abide.
Verses from Colin Thompson’s hymn, based on a prayer by Theresa D’Avila. Hymn 548 in Rejoice and Sing.
The Rev’d Dr ’frin Lewis-Smith is a healthcare chaplain in Salford