Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Amen. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). Now that is quite interesting. The meek shall inherit the earth. But why not heaven?
Because the heaven and earth that exist right now are going to be destroyed. They are not eternal. God made them in the six days of Creation. And he will unmake them on the Last Day. In next week’s Gospel, Jesus will say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). St. Peter writes, “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). And near the end of Revelation, St. John the Evangelist gasps in amazement: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1).
No, the meek shall inherit the earth—a new earth which is the marriage of heaven and earth in the new creation. And the Bible describes this wonderful world as one full of the very things we love and cherish in this world: mountains (Rev. 21:10), rivers and trees (Rev. 22:1-2; 7:17), even animals (Isa. 11:6-8). And that is why the old hymn is wrong. Earth is not “a desert drear.” Earth is our home.
In the beginning, when “God saw everything that he had made… it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Creation is good! Yes, we currently live in a fallen creation full of sin, death, pain, and disease. But that doesn’t mean it’s all headed for the trash heap. God is a Creator. He loves to create. And when Christ returns on the Last Day, he will “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The new heaven and new earth will be what the old heaven and old earth were meant to be before they were ruined by our wickedness and sin. Christ comes to make all things new—not all new things. In the new creation, there will be grass beneath our feet and water to splash in and mountains to climb and music to sing and creatures to name and tame.
And yet there is a little bit of a Gnostic streak in all of us. We think that the whole point of the Christian life is just to believe in Jesus so that, when we die someday, our souls will get to go to heaven. Then, because of bad preaching and popular piety, we have this dull idea that heaven is just a place full of light and fluffy clouds somewhere in another dimension. Maybe we will have wings and strum on harps all day (how boring!).
But the point of the Christian life is not to believe in Jesus so that when we die, we will go to heaven. That’s not the whole story. It’s part of the story, but it’s not even the best part. The point of the Christian life is to believe in Jesus so that when he raises us on the Last Day, we will be able to enjoy the new creation with him forever.
And to enjoy the new creation, we’re going to need new bodies, because grass is made for tickling our toes, and water is made to drink and swim in, and rocks are made for building things. That’s what St. Paul says in Romans 8: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved…” (Rom. 8:22-24a). Did you catch that?! “We wait eagerly for… the redemption of our bodies… For in this hope we are saved.” The Christian hope is the hope of the resurrection—not merely to die and have our soul go to heaven.
People typically say many things at funerals that are simply not true, as Jeff Gibbs has pointed out in his essay, “Five Things Not to Say at a Funeral,” (for example, “he was always ready to help” or “she never hurt a soul”). But one of the worst lies is that “death is just a natural part of life.” That could be nothing further from the truth. There is nothing natural about death at all. When God made Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, death was not part of his design. He made them immortal—able not to die (like the Elves in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). We were not made to die. We were made to live forever.
But death came into the world through Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12). Death is the most unnatural thing in the world. It is the ripping apart of our being, the separation of body and soul, which from the beginning, were meant to be together. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his little book, Creation and Fall, “Man does not have a body and have a soul. Man is body and soul.” “The body belongs to a person’s essence. The body is not the prison, the shell, the exterior of a human being; instead a human being is a human body.” The Christian hope is not an escape from creation, but a return to Creation as it was always meant to be.
Remember that after Jesus rose from the dead, he did not appear to his disciples as a mere spirit, a disembodied ghost. They were able to feel and touch him. He ate fish and bread to prove that he was alive. Jesus said, “See my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). After the resurrection, Jesus remained a human being with a body. Yes, it was a glorified body that could walk through walls and appear and disappear at will. But Jesus still had (and has!) a body with flesh and blood, breath and bone. And so shall we.
Once we finally get over the silly notion that we will shed our bodies like a snake in heaven, once we finally believe the real Christian hope, set forth in Scripture, the first question that pops into our minds is this: “Then what will our resurrection bodies be like?” This is a question that has fascinated Christians ever since the Bible was first written down. Paul struggles to explain it in 1 Corinthians 15. But in today’s epistle, John is content simply to say that we don’t know, but it will be wonderful: “What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). “What we will be has not yet appeared.” We cannot begin to comprehend what our glorified bodies will be like. “But we know that when he [Jesus] appears, we shall be like him…” The best hint we have of our bodies after Jesus raises us from the dead is the picture of his body after he rose from the dead. As Paul writes in Romans 6: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom. 6:5). We will experience a resurrection like his—like Jesus’!
So what does that look like? Well, as we already mentioned, after the resurrection, Jesus’ glorified body could still be seen, felt, touched, and heard. The five senses will still be part of who we are. Jesus was still able to eat and drink. And Thomas put his finger into the marks in Jesus’ hands and his hand into Jesus’ side, where he had been stabbed by the spear.
And now that leads us to another question: Will our resurrection bodies have scars? While we cannot know for certain, I believe they will. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection body still bore the scars of the cross. He still had the mark of the nails in his hands and feet (stigmata). He still had the hole from the spear in his side. Did his wounds hinder him? Of course not! Did they still hurt? Nope. Today’s reading from Revelation 7 puts that idea to bed. Were they still bleeding? No. But were they healed. Perhaps. But more importantly, Jesus’ wounds were transformed. They were glorified.
But why does Jesus still have his wounds? So that we will recognize him. “Because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). And the best way to recognize Jesus is to see the mark of the nails and spear that he received in his body on the cross, when he poured out his blood and breathed out his spirit to die for us and win for us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Jesus still bears the scars because the risen Lord Jesus remains forever Christ crucified for you and me. Jesus’ story didn’t end when he died, and the story of his first life was carried into his new life in the glorified body.
Your story matters too. The you that lives right now is the real you, and the me that lives right now is the real me: flesh and blood, breath and bone joined together with the Spirit breathed into us by God at our Baptisms. Body and soul belong together. And so in the resurrection, our bodies will be raised and redeemed, and our stories will be transformed and caught up into the never-ending story that is waiting to be written in the new heaven and the new earth. What a gift! How truly wonderful! Everything comes full circle, and the Bible begins and ends with a river and a garden and the Tree of Life.
What will it be like? I don’t know fully. I’ve already said too much. And so I will end how I began, with the words of St. John: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1-3, vol. 3 in series Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, trans. Douglas Stephen Bax, eds. Martin Rüter et al (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 76-77.