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A Sermon on

the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord

by Dr. Robert Crouse

King’s College Chapel, 1988


“Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself:  handle me and see;

for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” 

Luke 24




Each of the Evangelists treats the events of the resurrection of Jesus somewhat differently, but they all give the impression that those events were unexpected, bewildering, and even dismaying to his followers.  Occupied with mourning, trying to assimilate what seemed to them a tragedy, trying to accept the bitter end of all their cherished hopes, they had no eyes to see his resurrection.  At first, they could not even recognise their friend.  Mary Magdalene, weeping at the sepulchre, mistook him for the gardener; to those walkers at Emmaus, on Easter evening, he seemed at first a stranger.  The disciples, in Jerusalem, huddled in an upper room, “were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a ghost.”  “O blind, and slow of heart to believe all that they prophets had spoken.”


The Gospel accounts of the resurrection appearances of Jesus make very strange reading; especially in their insistence upon all the incidental physical details.  They will never let us forget that they are talking about flesh and bones.  That, of course, is what made it all so difficult, and still makes it so difficult.  Any thoughtful person, ancient or modern, would perhaps be prepared to think that the spirits of the just have some sort of immortality:  “their works do follow them.”  Their spirits somehow live on.  Even a modern pagan, without undue sentimentality, would probably allow some truth to the assertion.  And I suppose we all harbour some vague hopes of that kind of immortality:  in the memories of our friends, or our children, or posterity in general.  And perhaps we even believe in the immortality of the soul in quite a literal sense.


But all that is not resurrection.  “A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”  Resurrection is a matter of flesh and bones; and that is the problem.  Religion, surely, is concerned with spiritual things; or, at least, we suppose it should be so; and all this concern with flesh and bones seems inappropriate.  “The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh”, says St. Paul, “and these are contrary the one to the other.”  We all know something of the truth of this assertion.  Why, then, this exaltation of the flesh, and the source of so many inconveniences and troublesome demands?  Why revive all that?   “Whence comes this direful longing for the light?” Aeneas askes Anchises.


But resurrection, as the Gospel stories present it, is really something other than a return to earthly body, something other than the revival of a corpse:  it’s something quite different, for instance, from the raising of Lazarus, or of the widow’s son at Nain.  In resurrection, the strife of spirit and flesh is ended, and body becomes the clear and translucent expression of spirit.  It is not mere survival, but transformation:  “It is sown a natural body;  it is raised a spiritual body,”  says St. Paul.  And it is in precisely that sense that resurrection is the very keystone of Christian hope:  we look for a gracious perfecting of nature; we hope for the spiritual transformation in which nothing is lost, but all is made new: unimaginably new, God-given, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”


The doctrine of the soul’s immortality, espoused by the wise men of philosophy and the seers of our religions is, no doubt, a true and important doctrine.  But, alas!  We are not pure spirits, as angels are; we are flesh and bones, and the completeness of our salvation demands that that, too, be saved:  that all its tiresome weaknesses and perversities be overcome; that all be transformed in resurrection. Our hope of heaven is a hope of the perfection and unity are completeness of all we are; and the body, unimaginably renewed, is part of that eternal life and blessedness.  “For in this we groan,” says St. Paul, “earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven…for we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened;  not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up in life.”  (2 Cor. 5)


Resurrection belongs to the completeness of salvation. Dante, in the “Paradiso”, makes the point this way:

And when we put completeness on afresh,

All the more gracious shall our person be,

Reclothèd (revestita) in the holy and glorious flesh;

Whereby shall grow the unearned gift and free

The Highest Good bestows – that gift of light

By which we are enabled Him to see.

All this is very difficult, indeed – no easier, really, for us than for the first disciples.  “How are the dead raised up, and with what body do they come?”  asked the ancient sceptics;  and St. Paul’s audience, in Athens, anxious to listen to practically any new thing, mocked at the idea of resurrection.  It’s a mysterious business, certainly, and beyond imagining; and, apart from the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, and the precise and careful witness of the scriptures, who would dare to believe it?  It is for that reason, I think, that the Gospel records of the resurrection insist upon every detail as precious:  the position of the grave-clothes in the sepulchre, the touching of Jesus’ hands and side, his eating and drinking with the disciples, and so on.  “A spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” 


The apostolic witness founds our Christian hope;  and that we, too, might be heirs of resurrection, we take, in faith, the bread of eternal life and the cup of everlasting salvation – “the medicine specific of immortality,”  as St. Ignatius of Antioch called it – that the body and blood of the Risen Lord might preserve both body and soul unto life eternal.



Amen. +