Sunday, July 20, 2014

Groaning for Redemption: Our Resurrection Hope

The epistle reading assigned for today in the Revised Common Lectionary for Proper 11A is a very powerful passage  Here's an excerpt:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:18-25).

In an article entitled "You Do Not Groan Alone," Courtney Reissig draws on the 8th chapter of St. Paul's letter to the Romans to offer a moving reflection on pain and suffering.  Beginning with the experience of losing a child, Reissig paints an uncompromisingly realistic portrait of life in a fallen world while also faithfully proclaiming the Gospel hope.  Here are some excerpts from her article:

It doesn’t take long for us to look around and realize that in many ways everything in this world is screaming for redemption. ... As we watch loved ones reject Christ and make a wreck of their lives, we grieve and groan for God to make things right. Every pain-filled cry from our created bodies screams that this is not how it was supposed to be. Every bitter burial of a loved one is a groan for the dirt in the ground that swallows us up to push forth new life in the new creation. Every wrinkle, loose skin, gray hair, and aching back reminds us that this old body needs complete restoration. We are all longing for Christ’s final consummation of all things with every feeble breath we take.

But our groaning is not the final word. The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead will one day raise our ailing parents, gone-too-soon children, and cancer-ridden spouses, friends, and family members (Rom. 8:11). Through our suffering we are made like him and assured that we are his children. The Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies on that last day (Rom. 8:16-17). ...

Living in a world that is groaning for redemption is hardly easy. It requires more than we have to give at times. The very Spirit who brought Christ from the cold, dark grave will do the same for us. And when we don’t have eyes of faith to see as clearly as we ought, he intercedes on our behalf. So while we live in this broken world we have hope. Not that it will be easy. Not that we will always feel able to endure. But that this Christ, who will make all things right one day, is sustaining us and making us like him in every gut-wrenching sorrow.

Read it all.

Reissig reminds us that our hope as Christians does not consist of sloughing off our bodies and leaving behind God's creation to spend an eternity of disembodied bliss in heaven.  On the contrary, the Christian hope is a resurrection hope.  We express that hope every time we say, in the words of the Apostles' Creed, that we believe in "the resurrection of the body."  And we affirm that hope every Sunday when we say, in the words of the Nicene Creed, that "we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come."  

Our hope for redemption includes our bodies and all of the physical world.  It's about the marriage of heaven and earth as a new creation.  That's what we have to look forward to.  Our souls and bodies groan for this future.  And thanks be to God, that future has already begun in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. 

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