Bodies in Transformation
(Tuesday in Holy Week)
Following on yesterday’s second reading from the Daily Office Lectionary, Paul continues in the Letter to the Philippians to encourage his readers/hearers to press on towards the resurrection.
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.
Pressing on towards the resurrection from the dead, pushing “on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” is an effort that comes in response to the call from God. That call is manifested in the believer by faith, and Paul tells the recipients of his letter to be like him and others who are like him. Paul does this because he believes he is following the example of Jesus, and that he lives by the spirit of God.
He warns the Philippians against the enemies of the cross of Christ, who are the pagan Gentiles who are motivated by their unrestrained desires. Their mind set is on eartlhy things, not heavenly. They are under the dominion of earthly powers – whether human or otherwise – and so their citizenship is that of the earth, whether Rome or some other jurisdiction. Paul claims that Christians have a citizenship from heaven – they are under the dominion of the Spirit. When the Son of Man comes he will subject all of these enemies under him, destroying them, and the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15). After death is destroyed, all will come alive, some for judgement, others for glory. Christians will move into that glory and receive transformed bodies – spiritual but material bodies – just like Jesus.
These are hard things for post-enlightenment followers of Jesus to accept. Is the Son of Man going to return in glory? How are bodies transformed? How is death put to death? But, again, Paul is talking about that which is logically beyond ordinary speech, the event of the resurrection of Jesus that explodes ordinary categories and speech. We experience the power of the resurrection already in our bodies, as our inner selves are renewed even as our outer selves suffer and die.
In the meantime we are foreigners, strangers in a strange land. We can never be entirely comfortable with the political world around us, because it gives us a citizenship that is less than what we have from God. There is always a tension between the heavenly Jerusalem and the earthly Rome. We live our lives in that tension. There may be many Christians in government and among the people, but there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a Christian state or nation, just shadows of what we look for and hope to be.