It’s always funny to hear people talk about what they think the Faith means by eternal life. I remember one movie from the 1990 called “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. The movie was about this tragic murder of a man and how the woman he loves copes with this tragedy. Of course, the murdered man becomes a “ghost,” a disembodied “spirit and he spends the whole movie trying to learn how to interact with the physical world again to warn his sweetheart that his best friend had him murdered for money! The ending is suspenseful and sentimental. Suffice it to say, at the end of the movie I heard someone nearby me say “I’m going to church tomorrow!” It made me smile.
But the whole movie left the impression that eternal life is a disembodied life. That’s not what the Church teaches. Not at all. In fact, one of the earliest scandals of the Christian message was that the Christians believed in an EMBODIED eternity. We confess it every week “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come.” Just like Jesus still has His body (though glorified and eternal) so we will get our physical bodies like His body and will have them forever! To a world that saw the physical body as either a prison or nothing more than a toy to be enjoyed, the thought of being physical forever was downright goofy. But that is the teaching of the Church because of the Resurrection of Jesus.
Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17; 3:1-3:
BRETHREN, thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation, to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all men; and you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
So, what does eternity have to do with what St. Paul is telling the believers at Corinth parish? Everything.
Notice the physical way St. Paul describes the triumphant life of the believer in the “here and now:” the “fragrance” of knowledge, the “aroma” of Christ TO God among those who are being saved, and the “fragrance of death” among those who are perishing. St. Paul then goes on to say that these Corinthian believers, the very physical results of Paul’s missionary work, are his “letters of recommendation “written on our hearts to be known and read by all men.”
The truth is our resurrected life, our life in the Church, in the Faith is eternally whole and that includes our physical life as well. When we miss this significant reality, we allow ourselves the delusion that “as long as I have correct thoughts about God, or feelings about God, then I’m a Christian.” But that delusion misses one of the most radical and life-changing teachings of our Orthodox Faith: God intends for us to embody the Faith and not just talk about it. We are meant to so embody the message and teachings of the Church that our very lives in our world give off either the fragrance of knowledge and love to those who are seeking such or the stench of death to those who are enemies of love and life. We aren’t meant to be neutral when it comes to making the Faith visible!
Today, it’s time to abandon the sentimental notion of a “ghostly” eternity. We are meant to learn why the Church has always used physical sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and smells so we will never forget that our daily lives are meant to display the Faith and not just talk about it. Our Resurrection is based on our willingness to be Orthodox on Purpose!