During Easter week the readings are especially timely. The Pauline texts from 1 Corinthians includes his pondering the nature of the resurrection body. As is often the case with Paul, he tends to be somewhat dismissive in answering what appear to be reasonable questions. (15:35-36) With what kind of body do they come? Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies...
Paul follows the (Hellenistic) rhetorical practices of his time [see Ray Collin's (my thesis director) commentary on 1 Corinthians, a huge volume in Sacra Pagina]. The use of the harsh word "fool" is similar to the Stoic Cynic diatribes (a reminder that "the plain meaning of the Bible" is that plain meaning in its original context; hence a thorough understanding of the laws of rhetoric would go a long way to broadening and deepening our understanding).
Paul employs analogies for insight. Analogies are the best tool in trying to understand something we have never encountered (like resurrection). Paul's point is that the seed does not look like the grown plant. By extension, while the human body does maintain some characteristics as it ages, one can also see very dramatic changes take place as a body ages. The most fearsome warriors and accomplished athletes were once helpless toddlers, and given enough time will be reduced to a broken down shell of a man at some point.
The issue of bodies is less mysterious to us thanks to the advances of biology, chemistry and physics. Yet, in a sense, it may be even more mysterious. We know that human bodies consists of organs, cells, molecules, atoms--which makes the question "Who/what am I?" all the more difficult to answer. As I pondered the readings I found myself thinking; humans are made up mostly of water (or so I have heard most of my life). That means we are H20 (two hydrogen and one oxygen) so Christian is arguably made up of holy water (sanctified and set aside) which is pretty interesting.
The endless coming and going of cells and molecules (I read once every seven years we totally recycle) raises the question of continuity in identity. Am I me when my body is no longer the same? (in an age of sex change operations such a question is even more pressing) So what is being resurrected? In Jesus' case it was a fairly short cycle time, dead on Friday, alive in a new body on Sunday. The interesting thing to me is the scars He had. It was Him in continuity with His earthly life. This was not a disembodied soul appearing as a ghost. It was a physical body which could be touched and examined (and yet capable of appearing and disappearing, passing through doors yet able to eat fish). Theoretical physics often says that reality is mostly empty and apparently the physicality of the resurrected body includes some mechanism for controlling the materials of which the body consists.
We do not know exactly what happens. We know that there is reason to believe our "soul" or "spirit" exists in and through the body (hence the continuity of identity). Some report experiences after clinical death which support the idea the soul's life after death. However, the Christian faith is about "Life After life after death." (see NT Wright for extensive books on this theme). In other words, at the end of time all the ghosts/spirits will rise again and be re-enfleshed. This means that our every day life matters because it is the stuff of the resurrection body.
The tendency to spiritualize and to denigrate the bodily existence is not Jewish and it is not Christian. It is actually influenced by Greek beliefs of the pagan world. Too often, trying to be "spiritual" we ignore the FACT that Christianity is both spirit and body. It is the body that is raised. Even Jesus' body did that. It would have been possible for Him to reappear as a pure spirit, shed of the skin and bone of this earthly life. He did not do that. Instead, in graspable flesh, carrying the scars, He entered into the new mode of existence. One is led to think that this is God's intent for our existence: physicality.
Something to keep in mind the next time we think that this old body does not matter or that real life is something unrelated to our earthly existence. This life and this body are what God redeems and raises. A good reason to take seriously how I am living.....