This World is SO My Home
What does Christ's Resurrection entail for our view of the present life and world?
Have you ever met someone who believed in life after death … but not in God? Such people exist! If you want to meet one, ask around in the “Millennial Generation,” those born after 1980. Recent polling data by the Pew Research Center suggests that 64% of Millennials believe in the existence of a God, while 75% of them believe in heaven. How’s that for a sense of entitlement?! What this tells me is that humans have a very strong intuition that our physical existence is only a part of our entire being. (It also tells me that many younger Americans suffer from Special Snowflake Syndrome.)
Almost all religions teach there is a life after death. Even Judaism has a strain of belief in the afterlife, though many Jews are unaware of this part of their tradition. Indeed, the very point of most religions is to impart ways of living in this world to prepare a person for the world to come.
Life after death is imagined in many different ways. The ancient Greeks believed in an insubstantial, ghostly existence in the underworld. Hinduism teaches a cycle of reincarnation leading eventually to reunification with the Godhead. Other religions have a notion of heaven as an oasis of delights (sort of like Las Vegas … in fact, a lot like Las Vegas …).
Almost every religion has at the heart of its afterlife beliefs this cherished notion: This world is not my home. This body is but a shell—not the real me, something to be cast off when the lessons of this life have been learned. The ancient Greeks used to say soma, sema—“the body is a tomb,” a somatic cemetery that the soul yearns to be freed from all life long. Something not far from this sentiment prevails to this day in many Christian churches. “Heaven is my true home,” some say with a sigh. We’re just passing through down here, just marking time until we get to “a better place.” With this attitude often come personality problems: states of denial, learned helplessness, passive-aggression, anti-social behaviors. (The reason that Dana Carvey’s character “The Church Lady” was so funny was that she was familiar.)
Against this stands the historic and healthy Orthodox Christian teaching of the Resurrection. “Christ is Risen!” we shout at Pascha. His rising from the dead signals the hope of our own resurrection in a day decided by God. Our souls rejoice at this word, because it means we get our bodies back! Resuscitated, restored, rejuvenated … in better than mint condition!
And not just our bodies, but this whole world will be—according to the prophets and the Apostles—renewed, repaired, reunited to accomplish its original purpose. Our destiny after death is NOT to go to heaven: it is to be resurrected and to return to the home God built for us—this wonderful, beautiful planet. Earth itself will be heaven, for on that Day we will find that “the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them” (Revelation 21:3). We don’t go to heaven—heaven comes to us!
“Christ is Risen!” Not as a spirit only, but in His human body, perfected and glorified. You don’t need a body to live in heaven: having a body means living on Earth. If life after death involves a resurrection, then it also involves this world of ours. The promise of the Resurrection is a new life on a new Earth—not an interminable stint as an angel humming hymns in the clouds. Physical existence is only part of our human being, but it is a necessary and indispensable part.
“Christ is Risen!” This world is a place of wonders. I want to live here forever and not in the bloodless Cloud-Cuckoo-Land that is the afterlife of most religions. On this planet there is more than an eternity of things to do: places to explore, creatures to study, mountains to climb, and sunsets to watch. If you want to play Casper the Friendly Ghost, buzzing bodilessly around the celestial spheres, go knock yourself out. I’d rather mow the lawn under the hot sun every day for an eternity. This world is so totally my home. It’s imperfect, it’s broken, it’s out of joint … and it’s gorgeous. It’s the place God created me to live in with this body He designed so painstakingly for me. If God can fix death, then He can fix everything else—my earthly home, included.
“Christ is Risen!” That means God cares about this world He made—and so should we. That means God cares about these bodies He us—and so should we. Orthodox Christians should be at the forefront of planetary stewardship; we should also be good stewards of our bodies all life long. They are ours for eternity, and we should behave like we believe that. To do otherwise is more schizophrenic even than an atheist who believes in heaven!
It is a strange and wonderful thing to step into the church on Easter morning before the church begins to fill up for the Agape Vespers. It is the same sanctuary that just days ago was dark, somber, and hushed at the sight of Christ crucified and buried. Looking around on a Paschal morning, the floor littered with the laurels of victory, it seems like a brand-new building. Everything’s the same but completely different. Every pew, every tuft of carpet, every cobweb is suffused with joy, with light, with newness.
This is but a rehearsal for the Day of Resurrection. All will be the same—and all will be completely different. This Holy Week, come, walk with me through our dress rehearsal, and so learn to live in the light of a dawn that will someday break for all of us. Come, receive the Light from the Light that knows no night! Hold it in your hand, which through the Resurrection will be your hand for all eternity!
Kalo Pascha kai Kali Anastasi s’olous!! A Blessed Easter to All!!
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