Psalm 16:9-10 “Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”
Why could Jesus have such joy, even in the face of death? Why didn’t he worry about the fate of his flesh-and-blood body? It is because he knew his Father would not leave his body in the grave to rot. At least three times before his crucifixion he told his disciples that he would rise again on the third day. Even his enemies understood that he predicted a return to life for his dead body. That is why they had the tomb sealed and guarded it with soldiers.
Peter preached this to the crowds on Pentecost day: “David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact” (Acts 2:31-32).
This is the central message of Easter. This is what the holiday celebrates. Jesus’ immortality is not merely the immortality celebrities hope to achieve: to live on in people’s memories forever. There is a book entitled Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave. It includes the stories of men who have had some of the greatest impact upon our society, men like Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud. There is a sense in which they live on through their life-changing ideas. They “rule the world” through the influence they have had on the way that people think and act.
But that is not what we mean when we say that Jesus lives. Jesus truly rules the world, but he doesn’t rule it from the grave. He does more than change people’s lives. Jesus is alive. His real human body did not stay in the grave. His real human body is full of life once again, no less than yours or mine–in fact, infinitely more than yours or mine.
Because Jesus is alive, we are secure that God will raise us, too. We can make the words of the psalm our very own confession: “…you will not abandon me to the grave.” We have all been to enough funerals to know that this does not mean that Christians will never die. On those rare occasions when we make our way out to the cemetery, maybe it looks like a rather abandoned and forsaken place. Unless it’s Memorial Day weekend, cemeteries are often vacant of any living bodies, except for the occasional grounds-keepers or burial services. Row after row of silent stones mark the places where bodies seem to have been abandoned to the grave. Saints of the past have surrendered to the forces of decomposition and decay.
But Jesus promises, “Because I live, you also will live.” When God first made man, he created him from the dust of the ground. Even if our bodies have decayed to the point that they are nothing more than piles of dust, even if wild animals have consumed our bodies and dragged their parts in several directions, even if our ashes have been scattered to the winds or the seas, this presents no challenge to the one who made us and rose from death to life himself. In whatever form he finds them, “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, (he) will transform our lowly bodies, so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:21).