Home      Back to Easter 1        






Please note:  This sermon was preached in Rome and followed the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the Fourth Sunday after Easter that year.  Dr. Crouse spoke more generally on the resurrection of the body, which is most relevant to the Gospel for the Octave Day of Easter in the Traditional Lectionary.



A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

by Dr. Robert Crouse

All Saints’ Rome, 1995



If the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you,

he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies

by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

Romans 8.11




Our Gospel lesson today is a continuation of the story we began reading in last week’s Gospel:  the last of Jesus’ resurrection appearances recorded in St. John’s Gospel – the story of a miraculous catch of fish, breakfast on the beach, and the Risen Lord’s final commission to St. Peter, to feed his flock, in words you can see inscribed in golden mosaic in St. Peter’s Basilica.  It’s a story pregnant with almost inexhaustible symbolic and sacramental significance; but also, like the other resurrection stories, disconcerting in its emphasis upon the physical.  Pure spirit, after all, does not eat fish.


There are many aspects of Christian preaching which were readily accepted in the ancient world, by both Jews and Greeks.  Convictions about the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of men were by no means peculiar to the Christians.  The notion of the immortality of the soul was commonplace.  Christian moral teachings seemed to contain nothing very new or startling; they seemed to be recommending just what the greatest of the pagan moralists also recommended.  In such matters, St. Paul, speaking to the citizens of Athens, knew that he could call upon the support of the Greek poets:  “’In God we live and move and have our being’, as one of your own poets has said.”  (Acts 17.28)


But the apostolic witness was to something beyond all that; something very disconcerting:  it was witness to the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and that was deeply troubling.  It seemed absurd.  The ancient Hellenistic world cried out for a “spiritual” salvation, whereby immortal souls might escape from the prison of the body to a realm from which all physical, transitory things would be excluded.  In the greatest literary work of Roman antiquity, the Aeneid of Virgil, there is a wonderful scene in which Aeneas, the hero (and mythical founder of Rome) journeys through the underworld and meets the spirit of Anchises, his father, in the fields of Elysium.  His father shows him a host of souls, gathered at the edge of a river, preparing to return from Paradise to earth, and Aeneas cries out in protest: 

But, O my father, is it thinkable

That souls would leave this blessedness, be willing

A second time to bear the sluggish body.

Trade paradise for earth?  Alas, poor wretches,

Why such mad desire for light? (Aeneid VI, 719)

His father explains that only after drinking the waters of the river Lethe, in which all memory is annulled, are the souls willing to enter again into a mortal body, the source of all the destructive passions of the soul.  And so the conflict of body and soul, of spirit and matter, goes on in endless and hopeless cycles.  Only in forgetfulness can it be borne.


The resurrection of Jesus was not a return to mortal body.  It was not a resuscitation, as with Lazarus; but neither was it the escape of immortal soul.  It was the transformation of the body, the reconciliation of flesh and spirit.  The Risen Lord was not a ghost: “A spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me have.” (Luke 24.39).  The disciples were incredulous.  Clearly, in spite of all Jesus had said, they expected no such thing.  They hoped to embalm his body, and preserve it as a sacred relic.  Their immediate reaction to the resurrection was fear and dismay.  After all, they knew the limits of the possible.  “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe”, said Thomas (John 20.25).  But they did see, and they believed, and their lives became a witness to the resurrection.


But what does that witness really mean? I think that for many modern people, as for the ancient world, the resurrections seems not quite acceptable.  We would accept more readily a more “spiritual” salvation.  Men die, but their ideals live on. Flesh decays, but the human spirit is unconquerable and triumphs over the ravages of time.  We live on in our posterity, and find in that a kind of spiritual immortality. 


But that supposedly “spiritual” immortality has a terrible emptiness about it, a terrible incompleteness and inconclusiveness. As St. Paul says to the Corinthians:  “If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not?  Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”  (1 Corinthians 15.32).  And I think we all really know, all too well, the truth of those famous lines of Isaac Watts which we sang here last Sunday evening:

Time like an ever-rolling stream

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

The doctrine of the resurrection testifies to the wholeness of man’s salvation in Christ, which must include the redemption of the flesh; it is a redemption in which nothing can finally be lost, except sin.  Our longing is “not to be unclothed, but to be clothed upon” (2 Corinthians 5.4).  To be clothed upon, as Dante puts it in the Paradiso, “la carne gloriosa e santa” – “the holy and glorious flesh”.  If Christ be in you, says St. Paul, “the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness.  But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his spirit that dwelleth in you.”


The manner of that quickening transformation is beyond all explanation, “and (as St. John says) we know not what we shall be, but we shall be like him (1 John 3.2).  God has established resurrection in Christ, and what is Christ’s belongs to those who are his.  “For our citizenship is in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:  who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all tings unto himself”  (Phil 3.20-21).