In the Twinkling of an Eye

As Paul concludes his lst letter to the Corinthians he takes up the subject of the resurrection. Certainly there were people then as there are now who doubted or flat out did not believe that Jesus could have come back from the dead. How was this possible?

It might be easy to doubt the resurrection accounts from the gospels. I read someone who said that who the people saw was really Jesus’ brother, James. But when you listen to Paul you can have no doubt that Jesus was raised to life. (However, in the gospels he appears first to Mary in the garden. Then it says he went to Galilee, meaning to his mother.) If you do the math, Paul was alive at the same time Jesus was alive. It is likely that he may have even encountered Jesus when he was alive or at the very least heard of him. But without a doubt Paul, after he recounts all the people Jesus appeared to after he rose from dead, Paul attests to his own experience of the risen Christ. And at least for me, it is Paul’s witness that dispels any doubt.

So, what would he have looked like? What will we look like? These are the questions put to Paul that he addresses at the conclusion of this letter. He uses the metaphor of the seed again. We are seeded with human bodies, he says. This is what we come with, this is what we ‘sow’. But what is resurrected, what comes back to life is like what he and the others saw in the resurrected Jesus. It is a spiritual body, the human body transformed into a life-giving spirit that can be seen and experienced. This is how Paul images the resurrected body, the embodied spirit.

what is sown is perishable but what is raised is imperishable; the thing that is sown is contemptible but the thing that is raised is glorious; the thing that is sown is weak but what is raised is powerful; when it (our human bodies) is sown it embodies the soul, when it is raised it embodies the spirit.

After my parents died, being the eldest, it occurred to me I could be next. There was now nothing standing between me and heaven. It gave me pause. Sometimes I tried to imagine what it would be like, this thing called death. But the ending of Paul’s letter has taken way any trepidation or fear, for the most part. What Paul says is a reassurance and comfort because Christ has conquered Death, even our deaths. Just as death had no victory over Jesus, so too it will not have victory over us. It will not have the last word. God will. Paul faces it square in the face and asks Death where is your sting? Jesus’ death was humankinds ‘no’ to his life, to life itself, but his resurrection is God’s ‘yes’ to the life of Jesus and to ours as well.

The first followers of Jesus, like Paul, took some of the things Jesus said to mean that they would see him return in their lifetime. Paul describes the second coming as coming in the twinkling of an eye, when the last trumpet sounds. As Paul talks about sowing the seed that is raised as Jesus was raised, I thought of a passage in Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet. For both Rilke and St. Paul are speaking of the same reality, the coming of Jesus and the coming of Christ. In the letter he writes just before Christmas to the young poet, who is having doubts about the reality of Christ, Rilke asks the young poet:

Why do you not think of him as the coming one, imminent from all eternity, the future one, the final fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into times that are in the process of becoming, and living your life like a painful and beautiful day in the history of a great gestation? …these days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working at him…and think that the least we can do is to make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come.

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