“The first fruits of those who have died” (1 Corinthians 15:20). Even the metaphors of resurrection connect us to nature. In our area the serviceberry, also called the shadblow, is among the first bloomers and the first fruits of spring. We rejoice in the renewal of natural life that spring provides. Easter fits right into nature’s course. Even the name Easter brings to mind the ancient religions of natural renewal. Every Christian festival makes a connection to some phase of the agricultural cycle, just as the Jewish festivals that preceded them made those connections between God’s great historical actions and the natural cycles of life.
But resurrection is not nature in any typical observation. We do not ordinarily see resurrections. We see metaphors for rebirth in butterflies and seemingly dead plants and seeds springing to life. We see deserts blossom in the rare showers that fall. We see the persistence of life in extremely frigid and extraordinarily super-heated conditions, and the superabundance of life in most places on earth. But we also see extinctions, endangered species, the alarming die-offs of chunks of this interdependent environment of the earth, which we know will never be duplicated or replaced. We see deaths without visible resurrections.
Thanks to Jesus and his early followers we have our imaginations inspired by events with a claim to history, if not to nature. It was not a natural phenomenon that they proclaimed, although before them many had dreamed of resurrections of the dead. There was no divorce from the body in their thoughts, though other peoples had dreamed of a soul separating from the body at death. This was not the Hebrew dream; they were people tied to the goodness of the earth and physical life. They dreamed of a bodily resurrection, where the goodness of the body could provide a vessel for the spirit that God shared with people, and to an invisible extent God shared that spirit with all the rest of creation, as it “groaned in travail.”
Jesus was no resuscitated corpse, no ghost, nothing like anything imagined, a surprise when he came. But he and they gave us a hope that takes us beyond nature as we know it and beyond history as we know it most of the time, and we are thankful for that hope every time we say farewell to someone or something we have loved. We want more life, and not just any life, life in this specific form of this person, this animal, this place. Our faith anchors that hope in Jesus, in heaven, in God’s infinitely loving and seemingly impossible promises.
Nature takes us to near-death experiences, but no farther. Nature revives hearts that are not beating and lungs that have stopped inflating, but not if too much time has passed, and not without help. Does God have another nature in store for us, rearranged atoms, other dimensions, realms of spirit with a different nature than we have yet imagined? These are tantalizing questions for those of us who want explanations and hard evidence.
For now we must settle for the reality of first fruits, in various degrees of deliciousness. Metaphors feed our stomachs, while our eyes try to see beneath and behind, what Jesus would have us see.