Union and Communion (7)
July 25, 2017
In this penultimate installment of the series on a puritan doctrine of union and communion with Christ, I want to consider the comfort “this glorious union with Christ” brings to dying saints and to “their surviving mourners” (Case).
Thomas Jacomb says that we have no reason to be afraid of death even though it is “the king of terrors (Job 18:14)” because it can’t dissolve our union with Christ. We remain in Christ in both life and death. Death is, indeed, a great destroyer. It dissolves the union between the body and the soul, and the union between husband and wife. It takes a parent from a child, a child from a parent, and a sibling from a sibling. However, death is not the ultimate destroyer because it can’t dissolve the union between Christ and the believer. Saints die in the Lord and they sleep in Jesus (Rev. 14:13; 1 Thess. 4:14). In fact, death works to the advantage of the believer because to live is Christ but to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).
In writing in the midst of his own personal grief, Thomas Case highlights the idea that Christ even remains united to our dead bodies. He notes that our “ashes are not laid up in the grave so much as in Christ.” And even though our bodies return to dust and may be scattered to the four corners of the earth, Jesus, who knows the stars by name, “knows every dust of [our] precious bodies, keeps them in his hand, and is as really united to them as to his own human nature in heaven.” Thus, Case encourages mourners to view their loved ones’ dust in an urn that Jesus himself is holding in his hands and “for which he himself will be responsible, and bring it forth safely and entirely in the morning of the resurrection [see also WSC 37].” Similarly, Jacomb wrote, “When the body of a child of God shall be no better than a rotten carcase, Christ will say, Oh yet this very carcase is precious to me, for it is in union with me!...The very dust of believers is valued by Christ, insomuch that he will not lose the least atom of it.”
This is indeed a comforting truth, not only because it teaches that our whole person is precious to Jesus, but it also reassures us of our own bodily resurrection. Eusebius tells us that the Romans would burn the bodies of Christians and scatter their ashes in the Rhone river in order to crush their hope in the future resurrection. But it doesn’t matter if our bodies return to dust in the grave or if they are burned and scattered in the wind so that all trace of them is gone. They are united to Christ and he will raise them from the dead and fashion them according to his own glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Since the head, that is Christ, is risen then it is sure that the members, that is believers, will rise also “by virtue of the union that is betwixt them (Jacomb).”