Belief that after death we will have bodies is very ancient. We find that belief expressed in the Old Testament, in the second book of Maccabees, books which were written about the attempted suppression of Judaism in the second century B.C. and the Maccabee family which led the revolt against their oppressors, the Seleucid Kings. In 2 Maccabees, a mother and her seven sons are arrested and tortured for refusing to eat pork, which would be a violation of Jewish law, which, for them, is God's law. Then the sons are slowly murdered, one by one, in front of their mother. She is the last to die. All proclaim their belief in God and life after death. The third son, putting out his tongue and bravely holding out his hands so that they can be cut off, says "It was from Heaven I received these; for the sake of His Laws I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again."
The New Testament is full of affirmations that there is indeed life after death, a new life which we cannot comprehend now, but which we can depend on if we trust in Jesus' words to his beloved friends during his last supper with them, less than a day before his death: "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places; otherwise, how could I have told you that I was going to prepare a place for you? I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me, that, where I am, you also will be." (John 14: 1-3).
St. Paul tells his community in the city of Corinth: "I am telling you something that has been a secret. We are not all going to die, but we shall all be changed." --1 Corinthians 15:5. St. Paul has seen the Risen Lord, and his Lord has revealed to him that Jesus' resurrection is not just about Jesus' personal resurrection, but about resurrection for all of us.
Bishop Robert Barron (in his Daily Gospel Reflection for Nov. 9, 2019) says that "the resurrection is a bodily event. Notice how, in the accounts of Jesus’ particular Resurrection, the concrete, physical facticity of the Lord is continually emphasized. This confirms that what we await, as Paul said, is a spiritualized body, a transformed, elevated body, a body raised to a new key and a new dimension—but it will be a body."
The Risen Jesus - now the Christ - definitely has a body. He shows his body's wounds to Thomas, and invites him to touch them. He walks and talks with some of his friends on the road to Emmaus. He cooks a meal at the seashore for his friends and eats with them. It's a changed body - his friends don't always recognize him right away - and he can travel through doors. But Jesus' resurrected body is the sign of the glorious, transformed bodies we will have when we go to live with him in his Father's mansions.
Over the centuries, there have been battles in Christianity over whether we will have bodies in Heaven. "Take Five for Faith" (in the meditation for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time) remarks that "Church father Tertullian (155 - 240 AD.) insisted: 'The flesh is the hinge of salvation.' Cyril of Jerusalem (313 - 386 AD) concurred: 'Do not believe anyone who maintains that our bodies have nothing to do with God.' These thoughts countered religious schools disdaining the body and viewing only the purely spiritual soul as worthy of the afterlife. Christian thinkers held the Resurrection of Jesus as proof positive that God values the entire human person."
How do we know that God values the entire human person? The upcoming marvelous Feast of Christmas gives us the unequivocal answer to that question: God, pure spirit, did not disdain to take on a fully human body in Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. And Jesus enjoyed life with that body! Listening to birds, watching farmers work, using his hands to do intricate carpentry work and to heal people, drinking wine and undoubtedly dancing with the men at the wedding feast of Cana. The Incarnation itself shows us that, in each of us, our body and soul unite in one special, unique person. At our deaths, our souls leave our bodies, but only temporarily. God will eventually unite each one of us with our spiritualized, incomprehensibly changed-but-still-the-same-body.
Our totally personal God also desires our relationships in this life to continue into the next life where, undoubtedly, we will come to know and value in a deeper way not only the people we have known and valued here, but also an unimaginably vast number of people who belong to the communion - union - of saints, also known as the Body of Christ. One indicator of this is the vivid dreams of the dying. Channel 4 News in Buffalo, N.Y. carried this story:
"Hospice Buffalo is gaining worldwide attention for years of study involving the vivid dreams that dying patients report having in their final days of life.
'Everybody I knew that was dead was there,” said the late Jeanne Faber, a former patient of Hospice Buffalo who is one of hundreds of patients who Hospice Buffalo interviewed on video shortly before her death about her very vivid end of life dreams.
"She says the dreams became more frequent the sicker she became. 'I have seen my mother, recently more. I can’t say that my mother and I got along all those years, but we made up for it in the end,' said Faber.
"'As soon as I started here, this seemed to be common knowledge among people who work with dying patients and who were closer to the bedside,' said Dr, Christopher Kerr, CEO of Hospice Buffalo. 'I ended up studying it because as I came to appreciate that there was this kind of subjective or non-physical element to dying, that it was important and inherently therapeutic.'
"In the final days of life, dreams seem to bring comfort and tie up loose ends, according to Dr. Kerr. 'The thing you have to realize is the time for therapy and analysis is over. They’re nearing the end of their lives and people aren’t emerging from these experiences with questions; ‘what happened to me?’ They’re coming out of this with answers and meaning.'”
I think of that young man from 2 Maccabees holding out his tongue to be torn out, his hands to be cut off, and still saying with such poignant, powerful hope: "It was from Heaven I received these; for the sake of His Laws I disdain them; from Him I hope to receive them again." It gives me hope that, when we die, if we die in loving union with God, we will receive WHOLE bodies from God, regardless of how our surgeries, our physical and mental illnesses, and our specific deaths have marked, marred, and mutilated us.
The ancient Jewish peoples knew God as a saving and healing Presence, a Father, One Who is victorious over illness, torture, and death. Jesus also knew this God as Father, and, in the Gospels, revealed Him to us as our Father. Jesus also revealed and sent us His Spirit Who remains with us, ready to make all things new in our lives. God, Father, Son, and Spirit, yearns to love us and heal us through all the tragedies of our lives, and right through our deaths. God has a powerful, personal relationship with each of us, a relationship that does not die with our deaths, but is renewed and strengthened and made incredibly new in Heaven. There Jesus the Christ will pour his healing life and love over each of us, body and soul, to make us whole again, and there, among his Father's many mansions, he will reunite us with our loved ones to see, hear, hold, and kiss them again, this time for forever.
As you travel through life, and realize with each passing year that death comes for all of us, may you be at peace with the peace that passes all understanding. "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him." (Romans 15:13.)