The Dead Body

The Body of Christ Dead in the Tomb Hans Holbein

They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. They laid Jesus in the tomb. (John 19:40, 42)

God willed to be laid in a tomb. Sacred Scripture refers to the wounded dead body, taken down from the cross, as “Jesus.” They laid Jesus in the tomb.

We know what happened then. And what didn’t happen.

What happened: Jesus’ body lay quietly in the tomb Friday evening, Friday night, and Saturday. His soul visited the saints of the Old Covenant, who languished in the realm of the dead. Then, during the night, before dawn on Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead, bodily.

What didn’t happen, thank God: Nobody read the poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye that goes, “Don’t stand at my grave and weep, because I am a thousand winds the blow and diamond flints of snow.” No one burned Jesus’ body to ashes. No one put the ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece, or sifted them into necklace pendants and charm bracelets, or scattered them at the beach.

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The Lord had said, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days, I will raise it up.” He spoke of the Temple of His body.

Back in the twentieth century, we had one problem, when it came to funerals. The 20th-century atheist did not believe that the human soul lived on after bodily death. We Christians had to remind the world that our souls are immortal, and the death of the body does not mean the final end of life.

Now, in the 21st century, we have a different problem when people die. The 21st-century pagan does not respect the beauty and integrity of the human body. We Christians have to remind the world that our bodies will rise again.

Our limbs and sinews and musculature; our ribcages, kneecaps, and little fingers; our teeth and glands and earlobes—God formed it all with His masterful hands. He regards the whole thing—head to toe—as immeasurably precious.

As He faced imminent death, did the Lord Jesus take comfort in the idea that His “spirit” would live on in peoples’ memories? Did He regard His teaching and good example as some kind of ‘legacy’ that would endure through the generations?

Hardly. Human memories don’t last very long. If our hope for life beyond death rests solely on the fickle memories of our fellow man, then immortality doesn’t really amount to much.

Nor did the Lord imagine Himself getting absorbed into some kind of cosmic unity when He died. He did not say:

I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft star-shine of the night.

No. Christ gave practical instructions. He said to His disciples: “After I have risen from the dead, I will go before you into Galilee.”

Our Christian reverence for the bodies of the dead began on Good Friday. We read in the Church decree which establishes how Christian funerals should be conducted:

By means of funeral rites, the Church, as a tender mother, not only commends the dead to God but also raises high the hope of Her children and gives witness to Her faith in the future resurrection of all those baptized into Christ.

They lovingly laid Him in the tomb. We Christians do not cast the body aside and then delude ourselves, imagining some kind of purely spiritual triumph over death. No. Christ rose in His body. We believe in the resurrection of the body.

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