Laying to rest

"He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit..." 1 Peter 3. 18

Today we lay my beloved Uncle John to rest. But what do we mean by "laying to rest"? Is it the person or their physical remains? Are they present at all, or is it the shell which the "real person" used to inhabit? And what about cremation? Are the resurrection prospects of those who have been blown up or eaten by sharks any less than those who bodies are encased in a wooden box?

We prefer not to discuss these questions, though I suspect they occur to many of us, especially at funerals. At the heart of the Christian faith stands the resurrection of Jesus: the belief that "He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit" as the quotation above from Peter's first pastoral letter puts it. Yet it prompts another question: We can understand "put to death in the body" readily enough, but what does "made alive by the Spirit" mean?

If we understand this phrase in the context of eye-witness accounts of the risen Jesus in the New Testament, it is clear that he was the same but different. He was not always instantly recognisable but when those he met realised who he was, he was unmistakably real: able to eat, speak, touch and be touched. He appeared out of nowhere yet could display the physical marks of his suffering. All this by the power of the Spirit!

The Gospels are just as adamant that Jesus died on the cross. The power that brought Jesus back to life was the same as breathed life into all beings and created the universe. He resurrected Jesus and not just as a one-off but as the "first fruit of the New Creation", which includes all who respond to his call "Follow me". Can we not believe, therefore, that whom we call "Holy Spirit" is well able to resurrect those who die in faith, whether their remains are tidily assembled in a box or have already gone back to dust, scattered in a million pieces?

Death is a mystery but, when we put our faith in Jesus, resurrection is our certain destiny.