People say the darnedest things at funerals. Orthodoxy often gives way to sentimentality. The religion of Scripture often takes a back seat to the folk religion of the day – a toxic blend of new-age wackiness, a smattering of Bible verses and a healthy dose of sappy sentimentalism. When this is all mixed together we hear about people floating on clouds and singing with the angels. And, almost always, we hear of the blessings of being delivered from the body.
Much of this stems from trying to make sense about things the Bible really doesn’t talk about. Frankly, apart from a couple of New Testament verses, nothing is said about the intermediate state (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8) – the time between death and the resurrection of the body. The note the Bible strikes is one emphasizing the final state, the time after the resurrection of the body and the resurrection of the entire cosmos. This is the note that, here, the Creed rightly also strikes. This is important for us to notice because most people are concerned about life after death, while the Bible is concerned with what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life after death.” In putting it that way, Wright highlights the hope of the resurrection, a hope left out of the vernacular of many Christians today.
By the Creed’s insistence we are again reminded of the body/soul unity of the Bible. When God created Adam he created him physically and then “breathed the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7) into him. It was then that he became a “living being” (Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:45). From the beginning to be human was to be both body and spirit and to lack one is to be incomplete. Likewise, when we die we enter a state of incompleteness. We are lacking something. A rupture has taken place. We were made to always possess a body/soul unity. The Creed rightfully fixes our hope in the hope of the Bible: The resurrection of the body. Folk religion looks forward to deliverance from the body, the Christian hope, on the other hand, is the resurrection of the body. Christ is the firstfruits of the final resurrection. We look forward to that day when we shall see him as he is and become like him.
This is the last part of the Creed’s eschatology – theology of the end times. Whereas today it is complex, the Creed offers a rather simple approach to the future. Here is what we need to know. Christ is coming again. He will vindicate us and right all wrongs. And death will not have the final word. No, we will be raised to new life with him, wherein our joy will be complete and his glory made full.
As we continue in our celebration of Easter this is where our gaze is cast. This truth has always been especially meaningful to the martyrs and allowed them stand firm in the face of death. This is our hope. Death is inevitably coming. It cannot be escaped. However, in Christ it can be triumphed over and in this we hope and in this we rejoice.