The Empty Tomb and the Emptied Urn
These hymns resonate with the biblical story. Jesus, after all, demonstrates his identity — and the very meaning of the resurrection of the body — by the familiarity of eating and talking with his disciples, just as he did before, right along with the eerie mystery of such things as appearing dramatically in a locked room.
But he proves himself resurrected most memorably by calling his wavering disciple, Thomas, to feel the spike-marks in his hands, the spear-hole in his ribcage. This is after God has reversed the curse of death Jesus bore on our behalf.
We shouldn't see these crucifixion marks as meaning that God will resurrect us in whatever shape he finds us. Jesus, after all, would have been taken off the crucifixion stake in a far more disfigured condition than simply these wounds. He was beaten, pummeled, bled to death.
He was, the prophet Isaiah tells us beforehand, "as one from whom men hide their faces" (Isa. 53:3). It is telling that Jesus has to indicate to his disciples that there are wounds. His friends have trouble believing he's not a ghost, but they don't see him as some sort of zombie — a living version of the corpse they had left behind.
Our resurrection bodies will be whole and at peace, Scripture tells us. However we die, however we are laid to rest, this is all just the planting of a seed that flourishes into new life in the age to come (1 Cor. 15:35-44). Of course there's continuity. It is your body being raised; everything it means to be you. But what is "sown in weakness" is "raised in power" and what is "sown in dishonor" is "raised in glory" (1 Cor. 15:43).
Jesus' remaining wounds are unique, and the gospel itself shows us how. The Cross and the Empty Tomb aren't blips on the screen of God's redemptive purposes. They represent the gospel itself, the one story that makes sense of all our stories. They are, as the apostle Paul puts it, "of first importance" (1 Cor. 15:3).
This is why, even in the heavenly courts themselves, the redeemed sing of the worthiness of Christ "for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God" (Rev. 5:9). The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, "has conquered," we'll sing together. His piercings show us how he did so. The marks of Jesus' crucifixion are ever-present reminders that the redeemed of all the ages are just that: redeemed. When we've been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we will still be ex-sinners, those who were rescued by the love and mercy of God in Christ.
The wounds of Jesus — in beauty glorified — are eternal reminders that the gospel is never past tense.
I still oppose cremation. There's a reason Christians throughout the centuries have committed the bodies of the faithful to the ground, dramatically picturing our trust in the reclamation of these very same bodies when the roll is called up yonder. But I'm careful now to explain that, whatever is the case, cremation isn't forever. Neither is amputation or mastectomies or the horrifying tattoo marks of totalitarian regimes sending prisoners to their executions.
Our God is able to empty urns, to enliven graves, to restore limbs. He is able — and willing — to wipe away tears, and to make all things new. We ought to care for our bodies, and to care about how we honor them before and after death.
But, more importantly, we ought to remind ourselves of our hope, the day when we'll be gathered on the other side of this age of cemeteries. His blessings will be known, far as the curse is found — and that includes the marks of death we bore in our bodies. We'll be home, and we'll be whole.