1 Corinthians 15:51-53 – “Listen, I tell you a mystery. We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
Talking about his stories of fantasy worlds, J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jails and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it.”
We are like people in prison living in a world corrupted by our own sin and that of others. We fight with “this body of sin” in which we live. We conduct a never-ending battle to bring our thoughts and passions under control. We struggle to purify our motives and love others unconditionally—even those who irritate us to no end. Isn’t that like living in a jail of sorts? We are the prisoners of frustrated labors. We are trapped in weakening and failing bodies. We are captives in an ever more hateful world around us. Is it wrong to long for the escape that Jesus died to procure for us, the paradise he promised the penitent thief on the cross next to him? This is not some Tolkienesque fantasy world. It is a heavenly country, no less real just because we prisoners can’t see it.
Even now we find relief in the forgiveness of our sins. By faith we find a foretaste of heavenly peace and joy in knowing God’s grace and love. But Jesus has always intended to give us something more. Paul promises real change in these words from 1 Corinthians. Whether we have gone to feed the flowers long ago, or whether we are still on our way to the grave when Jesus returns, we will be instantly changed.
Paul calls us “imperishable.” The compost pile behind my garage reminds me what it means to be perishable. The moldy oranges, brown bananas, wilted lettuce and fermenting grass clippings may be perishing much faster than this body of mine, but our bodies are in the same process. They just don’t decay so fast. Graying and thinning hair, weakening eyes, dislocated or arthritic joints remind us that we are perishing, too.
The perishable will clothe itself with the imperishable. Jesus’ resurrection promises health and strength unaffected by age. Pain will disappear because it no longer serves a purpose. Terms like weary, fatigued, exhausted won’t have any use. Our resurrected and transformed bodies will be the perpetual motion machine, 100% efficient, incapable of suffering wear and tear.
The mortal will clothe itself with immortality. Death will follow its mother, Sin, into oblivion. And it will take its right hand man Fear along with it. We will finally know the settled security we so desire, but which always manages to escape our grasp in this place. Never again will we feel the emptiness of separation because someone we love has been permanently removed beyond all reach or contact. We will live, and life will be pure joy. That life will be all there is.
Jesus’ resurrection promises the great escape: a real change from what we know now. That promise helps make it possible to cope with the present life we live. We, too, are “longing for a better country, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). Our citizenship is in heaven. And we need not be ashamed to find our hope and comfort there.