When we celebrate Easter, we don’t often think about the moral implications of Jesus’ resurrection. At best, the topic may come to mind in a very roundabout way. The resurrection was the vindication of Jesus’ life and ministry, the divine stamp of approval on everything he preached, and a large part of his message was about how we should treat others. As a result, Easter is God’s endorsement of Jesus’ moral teachings.
However, I would suggest that there’s more to it than just that. Beyond simply validating what Jesus said before he died, Easter also teaches us about morality more directly. The very fact of Jesus’ resurrection has its own moral implications, and those implications are the foundation for much of Christian morality, especially in areas that are hotly contested in our culture today.
The Resurrection in Context
To begin, we have to understand what exactly the resurrection was. To many people today, it seems like an anomaly, a one-off event that sticks out like a sore thumb in God’s plan of salvation. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus’ resurrection was actually a foretaste of what will happen when he comes again at the end of human history. As St. Paul tells us:
“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23)
Contrary to popular belief, our ultimate goal is not to spend eternity with God as souls without bodies in heaven. Rather, our hope is that, just like Jesus, we too will get our bodies back and spend eternity with God as body-soul composites, just like we are now. God created us with both bodies and souls, and he intends for us to remain that way. If he wanted us to be disembodied souls, he would have created us that way.
As a result, Jesus’ resurrection is in fact an anomaly, but not in the way we normally think. What is strange about it is not the fact that he got his body back but rather when he got it back. We all hope to be reunited with our bodies after we die, but that will happen at Jesus’ second coming. For him, it happened 2,000 years ago, and that timing is what is unique about it.
Our Bodies Are Us
From all this, we can see that Easter isn’t just about Jesus. Yes, his resurrection is the event we celebrate, but that event is inextricably tied to the resurrection of all God’s people. As St. Paul says, it is “the first fruits” of that later resurrection, so we cannot think of one without the other. We cannot celebrate Jesus’ resurrection without also being reminded of our own.
And that resurrection, the one we hope to experience, has tremendous moral implications. As I said before, God created us as body-soul composites, and that’s how he wants us to remain for all eternity. When we lose our bodies at death, we lose an essential part of who and what we are, and as long as we are simply disembodied souls in heaven, we are incomplete, awaiting the reunion of our two halves to make us whole again. Simply put, our bodies really are us, so we can’t be who and what God always intended us to be without them.
So what does this all have to do with morality? If our bodies really are us, then what we do with them and to them really matters. On one level, this is obvious. If someone punches you in the face, they’ve punched you; it would make no sense to excuse their action because they only punched your body. However, on another level, this fact has tremendous, often misunderstood implications for many of today’s hot-button moral issues, particularly in the areas of life and sexuality. We don’t have space here to get into all the details of these moral implications, but we can take a bird’s eye view and go over them briefly.
In the area of life, it means that as long as the body is alive, so is the person. We can’t say that a human being who has permanently lost the capacity for conscious thought is no longer a person, nor can we say that a human being who has yet to develop that capacity is not a person. No, if our bodies really are us, then we are present from the moment our bodies begin to exist (conception) until the moment our souls leave them (biological death), which makes abortion and euthanasia nothing less than murder.
In the area of sexuality, this means that the bodily element of our romantic relationships is important. Most people today tend to view sex as just a fun activity that couples enjoy doing together, but it’s actually much more than that. Our faith teaches that sex forms a real physical bond between a man and a woman (1 Corinthians 6:16), and since our bodies are us, this union is much more significant than, say, two people connecting their computers. It is a genuinely personal bond, uniting two persons rather than merely two bodies, so sex has a real, inherent meaning beyond simply being an enjoyable thing to do. Furthermore, this means that sex must have a proper context as well (which we call marriage), one that fits its meaning, and sex outside that context will inevitably involve a distortion of its true significance.
The Ethics of Easter
At the end of the day, Jesus’ resurrection, when rightly understood as the first fruits of our own resurrection, teaches us that our bodies are important. They really are us, so what we do to and with them matters. We can never neglect or disregard them because they are “just” bodies. No, as long as our bodies are alive, then we are alive as well, and anything that we do with or to our bodies is really done with or to us. This has tremendous implications for many controversial moral issues in society today, and Christians would do well to remember the importance of our bodies when we contemplate those issues.