From our Coordinator of Sacramental Preparation, Angel Koerkel…
“I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This is the last line of the Nicene Creed, which we repeat at every Sunday Mass. This prayer has been around a long time and is a summation of our essential beliefs as Catholic Christians. The whole prayer is amazingly beautiful, but today we are going to look specifically at this last line because this is the nugget of Truth that is vividly revealed, and mocked, in today’s readings – and it is absolutely a core teaching of the Church (thus its inclusion in the Creed) that we will be bodily, physically resurrected! (For a great understanding of Church teaching on the resurrection of the body, open up your Catechism to paragraphs 988-1014.)
In the first reading from the 2nd book of Maccabees we hear part of a very strange tale with lots of history, but what’s relevant to us in our discussion of the resurrection of the body is the belief of both the third and fourth sons as they face martyrdom at the hands of the evil king. As the third son is about to be tortured, he offers up his tongue and hands to the king’s men, but before they cut them off the son declared his faith that he received his body from Heaven and that in hope he anticipates that God will return them to him. His brother, the fourth son, likewise expressed his hope for a resurrected body after his pending death. These young men have had an example in their mother. Although her part of the story is not in the reading we hear at Mass today, chapter seven goes on to tell us that she prays over all seven of her sons as they are tortured to death and she exclaims that in God’s mercy, He will give them life again because of their faithfulness.
Later, in the Gospel story as told by St. Luke, we hear Jesus being openly mocked by the Sadducees. The sadducees, who were a powerful and elite sect of Judaism at the time of the New Testament, did not believe in the resurrection of life, or many other things such as souls and angels, and they hoped to catch Jesus in a trap of words. They called on some teachings of Moses in an attempt to corner Jesus into contradicting the great prophet. Their purpose was to get Jesus to deny the resurrection of the body. Of course, Jesus turns the tables on them and lays out the reality of the resurrection using Moses’ experience at the burning bush as an example. Because God reveals Himself to Moses as the God of his fathers – Abraham, Isaac, & Jacob – He is showing that these great men of Israel’s past are alive with Him now. “He is not God of the dead, but of the living,” as Jesus says.
There’s lots of evidence of the Truth of the resurrection in other places in Scripture as well. Just a few examples: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” (Rom 6:8); “Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (Jn 11:25); We “groan inwardly as we wait for…the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:23).
Why is this all so important to us and what does it have to do with the closing line of the Nicene Creed? As I mentioned earlier, the Creed has been around a very long time, since the late 4th century. It was developed at two Church councils with the intent of relaying the core teachings and beliefs of the faith, including the bodily resurrection. At the time the Creed was being developed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit there was a particular heresy gaining popularity called manichaeism which taught that the human body was all bad and only the soul was saved or worth saving. This idea of a separation of the body and soul, also known as dualism, goes back to Greek philosophy but it was spreading like crazy in the late 300’s contrary to the teachings of Scripture as we have seen. This heretical teaching of disparaging the human body, which, although it is not known by the name “manichaeism” any longer, is alive and well today. We see evidence of this in the world around us every day in the way we treat bodies, our own and others. Without the awareness that our bodies are meant to be united with our souls for eternity, we disregard them as sinful, worthless, mere matter, but God says that’s not the way He created us to be.
God uses the matter of the world to reveal His Presence to us and to hide the mysterious ways that He interacts with us: clearly He doesn’t have a negative view of matter. What do I mean? God created us as both physical and spiritual beings. We have a physical body and a spiritual soul and the two are united together in us, fully and completely. In the sacraments, God uses physical things of the world (water, oil, touch, etc.) to convey to our senses what is happening invisibly within our souls (salvation, sealing, forgiveness, etc.). I can’t see the sealing of the gift of the Holy Spirit within me, but I can feel and smell the oil poured on my head by the bishop that reveals to me what is happening within my soul. Just as God unites those spiritual realities with the matter He created to reveal something to us, so He united our souls and bodies; Christ became incarnate, literally He took on flesh, for our redemption and so that we can have hope to rise with Him, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5).
When God created mankind He not only called us good, but very good, and this is not the creation of just the soul but of the physical, human body. God intends for us to live with Him for eternity as our souls are reunited with our glorified, perfected (praise God!) bodies. Jesus and Mary are bodily in heaven now, along with Enoch and Elijah from the Old Testament. They will not be the only bodies in heaven; we will be there, too. We’ve been anticipating this reality for our whole lives in the sacraments and in praying the Creed. I don’t know about you, but “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Amen!