Sunday morning I led (or attempted to) a group of high school juniors and seniors through a rocky discussion on death and heaven. Lucky for me the Tamed Cynic showed up (better late than never) to help steer the conversation in a direction that would not only teach our group the basics of Christian resurrection theology but also keep me from becoming a heretic, and having a bunch of angry parents filling my inbox with angry emails.
This week I sat through a lecture on resurrection given by Kendall Soulen at WTS. Each week he wows and baffles our class with #zesty theological goodness. I wish I had sat through this lecture before gearing up for the Sunday morning lesson I botched.
I’m not going to attempt to recreate Kendall’s lecture here but I do want to share a few points that I would have liked to have shared with my catechism students during the botched lesson:
1. What resurrection IS and what it IS NOT
Resurrection IS NOT immortality for the soul ~ our bodies are so tightly intertwined with our souls that when the body dies the soul cannot exist without the body; this reflects the view of the Old Testament authors and is the background for which the New Testament begins to take shape.
Resurrection IS NOT the same as resuscitation ~ resuscitation is a temporary relief from death; a temporary victory. A perfect Biblical example of this is the raising of Lazarus. Eventually Lazarus would die again.
2. The story of the New Testament IS a story of resurrection ~ Christ being raised from the dead and into eternal life can be contrasted by Lazarus who was raised into a mortal life. All of Christ was raised into eternal life.
Christ IS the first fruits through His resurrection ~ Dr. Soulen used this analogy to describe the first fruits: The frost of death’s winter has a grip on most but in one place the ice has melted away. The sprouting of new life gives hope that spring is coming.”2. A better response to their questions regarding what happens between death and the general resurrection.Of the three views on this interim state I would have presented the “Soul Sleep” and “Cloud of Witnesses” views and briefly touched on Purgatory. The two popular views have been validated by respected theologians. Here are some brief (very brief) definitions:
- “Soul Sleep” – the soul is not dead; the soul is in a state of rest and sleep, and not self-awareness. God has not forgotten the dead, they are dormant with God for the purposes of new life. NT Wright argues that this is most consistent with scripture
- “Cloud of Witnesses” – the dead are awake and continue to have solidarity with the church. They are conscious but not having to work out their salvation like is the case with Purgatory. The final judgement occurs at the general resurrection. John Wesley, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustine were all supporters of this view
3. Finally, I would have discussed with my students how the resurrection influences and shapes our reading of scripture. We have the opportunity of knowing the ending to the story before we read the whole story. Just think of knowing that Snape was protecting Harry Potter because of Snape’s love for Lilly Potter and NOT filled with hatred and resentment for Harry. The resurrection shapes and answers the central question of the New Testament; who is this Jesus character. The resurrection makes the entire story of Jesus’ clear.
I will share these thoughts with my catechism class. Knowing the ending of the story always makes the beginning middle and end more clear.
The great thing about the resurrection is that it’s not the ending of the story. The resurrection offers new life with God, and Christ is the first fruits of the new life that is to come. The soul is a seed that must be cultivated a cared for so that we too are able to join Christ as sown seeds in the new creation.