I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
The Articles for Advent
The Ultimate Hope
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Tonight we find our way to the end of Advent, and as Advent seasons are wont to do, this one ends as the world will, with the Judgment and eternal life. Advent means "Coming". The message of Advent is "He is Coming!" But He is not coming empty handed. He is coming for a very specific purpose. The first purpose is contained in those words which begin our section of the Creed: The resurrection of the body.
The resurrection of the body is confessed by the church because no one has ever seen it, except at the time of the Jesus. His was the first body to rise in the resurrection. Our resurrection is actually part of the same resurrection, just separated in time a bit. His resurrection is the cause of our own, and shows us what ours will be like. We confess it because it is the promise of God and because we still await the experience of it. That day of resurrection, which begins with the glorious return of our Lord Jesus, just as He has promised - and as the angels said it would happen when Jesus ascended - will put the lie to the thing we call death. It will be shown to be as temporary and powerless as Jesus has made it.
Sadly, it will also disclose the horrific reality of that thing Scripture calls "the second death." Not everyone who rises on the day will rise to life. Many will rise, but to continued and eternal death and torment. They will discover the reality of death, which has hidden for long ages behind the quiet curtain of the grave. Desperate men and women have often fled into the grave to escape the stresses of life in this world of sin and sorrow. They fled there because it looked so peaceable, and calm, and still, and unfeeling. On that day of the resurrection of all flesh, the reality of death with its horrors and torments will be revealed. They will discover their error, to their great dismay. The second death is not a place of silence and unawareness. It will be revealed to be a state of weeping and gnashing of teeth, as Jesus described it, or tremendous sorrow and awful regret, and of fire and of torment of both body and soul. The outer darkness where God is not and where there is no good thing, no comfort, no escape from the flames and the corruption of death.
In the Creed, however, we are confessing not only the rising from the grave, which all flesh will do, but that resurrection to life everlasting. Jesus is coming to bring us finally to that home we have always longed for but never quite seen. We will discover that we have been something like those who are born away from their native soil, and who long and dream of the day that they can return home and finally be among their own kind. Suddenly the Lord will appear and we will be raised, and we will find ourselves among our own - and we know them, particularly those whom we have known and loved here, who will also be making that final journey to their homeland.
I wish I could describe it. The Bible gives us pictures of it in words, but I suspect that the pictures are to head our minds in the right direction, but failing to give us a clear image of what it will be like. It will be life, and life lived in the presence of the Lord in all His glory. It will be life lived without the stains and corruption due to sin. It will contain no sickness or infirmity of any sort. The Bible tells us that there will be no sorrow - that every tear will be wiped away from our eyes. There will be no more dying there, for this life is everlasting. I suspect that there will be no aging as we experience it here. Every day will be like the last, at least as regards our physical well-being. There will be no deterioration or loss. We also will have no sin, guilt or shame, no regrets to trouble us.
On the other hand we will be positively good, happy, and aware of our blessedness, and filled with joyous thanksgiving to God without any sense of burden about it, as we often feel in this world. Paul describes us as meeting the Lord in the air, on that day, which suggests that we may have a command over the laws of physics - gravity, for example, will not bind us, perhaps, but be a tool we can use or not as is appropriate in each situation. It sounds as if there will be eating and drinking, for everlasting life is described as a feast, a marriage feast. It certainly seems that there will be the joy of honest work, but not mixed with the pains and sorrows that came with the curse of "in the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread".
We will also know and enjoy the company of those who have gone before us - and followed after us - in the faith. Parents and grandparents, children and grandchildren, husband or wife, although our relationship with each of them will be changed, for the family relationships of our world are God's gifts to us for living in and surviving this world, and will not be the same thing there. Perhaps each will be like a brother or sister to each and to all. After all, we are actually all members of one family, the family of Adam and Eve. We will likely know one another and our place in each other's lives, but we will relate differently in that place.
Chief of all the joys of heaven will be the joy of knowing our Lord and seeing Him face to face. There all the confusion will end. We will know what the Lord would have us to know, and be content, delighted with our knowledge and situation. We will be able to see Him of whom we have sung our hymns so often, and the joy of the familiar hymn will be replaced with the joy of the face of Jesus and knowing Him who loved us with such a complete love that He died for us. There will be no forgiveness there, for there will be no sin to forgive. But I do not doubt that we will know that We have been rescued, redeemed and forgiven in order to get there. It will be all joy.
Why doesn't the Bible tell us all of this explicitly? I suspect because there would be no words to say it. Paul wrote that the troubles of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. That means that it is inexpressibly glorious and wonderful, but how you would precisely communicate that across thousands of years of human society, to hundreds of cultures, with technologies and aspirations as varied as this world has known is just one of those daunting questions. Besides all that, God intends for us to walk by faith. We aren't supposed to know such things with any precision nor are we expected to know that stuff. We are expected to trust God, and take Him at His Word, and count that as sufficient for now.
So, we are given the picture of the wedding feast, of the division of sheep and goats, of the wedding for which the ten virgins awaited the Bridegroom, of Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham, of the resurrected saints rising to meet the Lord in the air, dining at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of the harvest, of the payment of the laborers at the end of the workday, and of a worldly kingdom ruled directly by God. My favorite picture of eternal life is celebrating Holy Communion at the table with Jesus Christ Himself speaking to us and serving us and sharing in the bread and the fruit of the vine with us.
And all of that is confessed by the Church throughout the ages in the simple phrase in the Creed, "and the life everlasting". And we end our confession of the Gospel each time we speak the Creed with a single word which means "This is the truth!" We say "Amen". So we say it again tonight.
"Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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