Changed in a Flash - Escaping the "Sting of Death"

“Do you not know that your body is a shrine of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is God’s gift to you? You do not belong to yourselves; you were bought at a price. Then honor God in your body.” - I Corinthians 6:19-20

“What I mean, my brothers, is this: flesh and blood can never possess the kingdom of God, and the perishable cannot possess immortality. Listen! I will unfold a mystery: we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet-call. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise immortal, and we shall be changed. This perishable being must be clothed with the imperishable, and what is mortal must be clothed with immortality. And when our mortality has been clothed with immortality, then the saying of Scripture will come true: ‘Death is swallowed up: victory is won!’ O Death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and sin gains its power from the law; but, God be praised, he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” - I Corinthians 15: 50-57

The powerful writing of the apostle Paul reaches a zenith with this compelling discourse on mortality and immortality, where he teaches of victory over death, and how each man can achieve it.

Escaping the sting of death is dependent upon an understanding of what is mortal. When a man ponders his mortality, he immediately thinks of the flesh and blood of the body, readily believing that the body is finite. Yet he overlooks certain everlasting aspects of the physical form. On a subatomic level, for example, there is no component of the human body that comes to an end – when the human "dies", the molecules and quarks that collectively constituted the body don’t disappear. They are disbursed into the universe, joining with the water and air, figuring in the growth of food, nurturing new bodies – a universal communion of life that will never cease to exist. The only bodily death that has taken place is in the individual's perception of the body as "his". This egocentric flesh and blood can never, as Paul says, possess the kingdom of God; and yet the selfless body goes on forever. It is immortal.

While man generally accepts the mortality of the egocentric body, he is conversely uncomfortable considering the mortality of the egocentric mind. He feels that the ego – his awareness of self – must somehow continue after death, and envisions his earthly personality as an eternally conscious witness to the infinite future. This is because, throughout his life, man maintains a distinction between himself and the universe, often placing himself at its epicenter, where his personal perception is of paramount importance. He devises countless techniques to reinforce this viewpoint. Even “the law” that we rely on to regulate daily living and delineate our ethical understanding encourages perceptions of separateness: if one man is the victim, another must be the offender; if one is right, another must be wrong. In identifying himself as separate from the rest of God's creation, man inadvertently defines himself in relative, temporal, and above all, mortal terms which ultimately will pass away. He has committed the sin that will keep him from eternal life. The demise of his "relative consciousness" will be the very sting of his death.

But Paul tells us we can escape this sting of death; that there is eternal life to be had, by "clothing" ourselves with immortality, by abandoning relative consciousness and embracing “divine consciousness”. God's infinite being is everything there is, permeating every cell of the body, and every nuance of the spirit. In relative consciousness, my body and my spirit are born and will die: in divine consciousness, the body and the spirit of God’s creation are absolutely eternal.

It is in the shift from relative to divine consciousness that man becomes clothed with immortality. The shift is not easy for most of us, so deeply are we immersed within our finite selves, which is why the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is paramount for Paul. In Christ, Paul thinks, all of mankind bears witness to the ultimate, inevitable victory of divine consciousness over the relative. To embrace this message and assume it in one’s own life is man’s salvation. The understanding of this message may take a lifetime, or may occur in an instant (or as Paul says, "in the twinkling of an eye”), and can even come in a man’s final moments of earthly existence (“at the last trumpet-call"). Yet with this revelation, man is no longer defined within the limited context of himself, but within the limitless context of all creation. In this way, he, like Jesus, is resurrected from his temporal death.

What Paul says repeatedly (because he would have us remember throughout our lives), is that the body, from the marrow of the bones to the surface of the skin, is nothing other than a physical expression of God’s infinite being, and should be treated as the Eucharist, the sacrament of Holy Communion, that it is. As Paul says so simply and clearly, it is by honoring God in our bodies that we clothe ourselves with immortality.

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