Wednesday, April 12, 2017
"The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.
1 Corinthians 15:45
I have often wondered what it would be like to be the son of the widow of Nain, or Lazarus, or Jairus’ daughter, growing old, approaching the end of life (again). The Gospels tell how Jesus brought back all three of these people from the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 11; and Mark 5:21-43). To have died and come back to life must have been a most amazing experience, especially to have been revived by Jesus of Nazareth. But in the end it didn’t change the brutal fact that their life would end one day in death, again.
There are modern stories too of death- or near-death experiences, like Dr. Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven. There is even an organization that studies this sort of thing, the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS). In 2015, Gideon Lichfield wrote an article in The Atlantic looking at the science around the many stories of resuscitation--he is a sceptic, but not dismissive. Whatever we are to make of these striking stories, those that lived to tell about their return from death are sure to die again.
Resuscitation is not resurrection. This is hard to get our minds around, but it’s really important in understanding what the New Testament is talking about when it tells us that Jesus was raised from the dead. If you have a hard time getting this, you are in good company, at least famous company. The first disciples didn’t get it either. Three times in Mark’s Gospel Jesus predicts his resurrection, and the disciples were still clueless when it happened--in fact they were terrified. Mark tells us that “they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it” (Mark 9:32). Mark’s account, reflecting Peter’s testimony, tells it truly even if it hurt: the disciples were blind as bats when it came to the resurrection.
I’m inclined to cut them some slack. They had never seen anything like this. Jairus’ daughter made a great story, a miracle to be sure. But it was a miracle of the old creation, as C.S. Lewis puts it, not of the new creation. I know her parents were overjoyed to hug her warm body again, but the story ends like this: A dead girl was given one more chance at life full of sin and sorrow and ending in death. Same ole same ole.
But not Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection was something completely new. Nothing like this had happened since the creation of the world, when God made humanity in his image. But now God was remaking humanity in the image of His Son. Now a man, a real man, had lived a life of submission to the Father, and his death had made possible the remaking of humanity. The resurrection was God’s demonstration that this new creation had begun. When the disciples encounter the risen Christ, they are not encountering a resuscitated man; they are encountering for first time the Real Man, the New Man, the Next Man. This is the Man in whom we all can be remade: no longer simply creatures, but sons and daughters of God through the only Son of God.
The Gospel writers mostly tell us that Jesus said and did things. By the Spirit of God, it fell mainly to Paul to say what those things were, what they meant. So Mark tells us that Jesus rose from the dead. And Paul tells us what this resurrection meant for Christians: “‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45). A living being is an amazing thing, but in the natural world we know, because of sin, living beings do not live forever--they die. If a living being who has died comes back to life (like Lazarus), this is extraordinary. But extraordinary is not supernatural. Supernatural is when God takes humanity up again into God’s own self and gives God’s ever-living life to men and women. Supernatural is when there is a Being in the world whose life is not only eternal but contagious with everlasting life. The good news of the Gospel is that we can “catch” Jesus’ everlasting life by being “in” him. And this we do by faith, by submitting ourselves completely to him. Adam the First had life; but Adam the Second gave life. So different are these two forms of life that Paul rewrites the Genesis story and invents a new term for the second kind of life: “the life-giving spirit.”
There may be some Trinity students and parents who are looking to make the most of the life they have from Adam the First, to be the best Lazaruses they can. I suppose that Trinity School will work well enough if this is what you want. But it seems like small ball compared to what is offered to us in the Gospel: to learn to live the New Life that is hidden with Christ in God, the life that never ends, that goes from strength to strength and glory to glory, that ends in our perfection and our complete happiness in God. That all started at Easter, and it goes on and on every day for the Christian.