Paul begins his letter to the Colossians by thanking God for them. He thanks God for their faith in Jesus Christ, their love for other believers, and the shared hope they have that’s been laid up for them all in heaven. The next phrase refers directly to the shared hope they have in heaven. Paul says in Colossians 1:5-6, “Of this, you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth.” It’s the ultimate truth that changed the world. Jesus did not start the church during his life. It wasn’t his death on the cross that changed the world. After his death, his close disciples went back to fishing. The two saints on the road to Emmaus were just going about their lives. The women went to embalm the dead body of Jesus as they would anyone that had died. It wasn’t his death that changed the world. It was the resurrection that changed everything. This is the essence of the Gospel preached to the Colossians and received by them. It’s the same truth that changes our lives today. We’ve come to believe with all the saints of old that, as Wordsworth wrote, “Life is real! Life is earnest!  And the grave is not its goal; ‘Dust thou art, to dust returnest,’ was not spoken of the soul.”

I think the gospel “truth,” however, is that eternal life, offered to all through faith in Jesus, comes to our body and soul, not just soul. It seems that an ethereal existence after death might be comforting in ways, but it’s a lot more exciting to see that our bodies will be resurrected to rejoin our spirits for eternity. One blogger explains, “Just as our earthly bodies are perfectly suited to life on earth, our resurrected bodies will be suited for life in eternity. We will have form and solidity to the touch. We will likely be able to enjoy food but will not be driven to it by necessity or fleshly desire. And like Moses and Elijah, we will be able to bathe in the glory of our Maker in the fellowship of His dear Son. The bodies we inherit will be more like what God originally intended rather than what we now abide in. Gone will be the infirmity and weakness of our sinful flesh; rather, we will be glorified with Christ, and that glory will extend to the bodies we will inhabit.”[1] Jesus wanted us to understand that, and that’s why he ate fish in one of his post-resurrection appearances and insisted that he had risen bodily.

This is part of the good news. I’ve often heard on TV shows, movies, and books that people are said to live on after they die in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. That might be comforting for those left behind, but it does nothing for the dead ones! I don’t know about you, but it’s not good news for me to be someone’s fond memory. I don’t want to live on in someone’s heart or mind. I want to live on, really! I want to be me. I want to be able to experience all the wonders of heaven. That’s the good news. It’s what enables us all to go on during times of suffering, war, disaster, or disease. Philipp Nicolai, a Lutheran pastor who had served in several congregations already, came to the parish of Unna in Westphalia in 1596. The following year, the plague struck Unna with dreadful ferocity; in 1597 alone, more than 1,400 residents died. Nicolai relates that the small town often witnessed up to 30 funerals in a single day. Surrounded by terror and engulfed in grief, Nicolai found consolation in the doctrine of eternal life. He writes, “During this time, nothing was sweeter, fonder, or more pleasant to me than contemplating the precious lofty article of eternal life procured by Christ’s blood.”[2] There has to be something beyond the pale. There’s more awaiting you and me. We are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Notice, it’s just a shadow. We are not living in the land of the living, headed for the land of the dead. We’re living in the land of the dying, headed for the land where we will be truly alive.