“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead…” It’s one of the beliefs of Catholicism that we acknowledge every Sunday in the Nicene creed as well as in the Apostles Creed. But do we say it because it’s part of the prayer or do we really mean it?
What does it mean to rise from the dead? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that question is raised and answered in # 997, “ In death, the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body.” As Jesus was the first one to rise from the dead, we can look to Him as an example of what to expect.
Unrecognizable may be one characteristic used to describe Jesus’ risen form. Mary Magdalene, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not realize who Jesus was and the eleven thought He was a ghost when He first appeared to them. Was it His glory that confused them? Or was He able to hide his identity by changing His appearance? Or was it because they did not think He was alive that they could not recognize Him because they were not expecting to encounter Jesus? It was only with the intimacy of words: being called by name and in the blessing and in the breaking of bread, which were actions they were familiar with Jesus doing, that they were able to see that it was Him.
What was not hidden or healed were the wounds of the crucifixion. He showed the eleven His hands and feet and bid Thomas to put his hand into His side. By these wounds Jesus healed the relationship between God and humanity and as a result, they are glorified too. They no longer remain a source of pain but become a reminder that through suffering there is the promise of life eternal. In this glorified state Jesus is able to appear and disappear, even in rooms that are locked. And to prove He is not just spirit alone, He eats and drinks with His disciples.
It can feel a bit like science fiction to try to imagine the resurrection of the dead, but God did give us minds to think, ponder, imagine and dream. Those who are not pleased with their looks in this life hope that they can change their appearance in the next, but that is human vanity speaking. If Jesus’ wounds were glorified, would not our imperfections also be glorified? Perhaps those who feel the effects of an aging body hope the resurrected body is from their youth or prime. But do we limit God’s ability to transform our weak, human form in His glory?
I don’t know what I will look like in the resurrection of the dead, but I am looking forward to being amazed at God’s glory. Just looking around at the symphony of nature, which is fleeting daily, I know He will make a masterpiece of me. I can’t ask for anything more.