At the moment we are praying, with our former church in Sheffield and our Mission Order family around the world, for a young woman who died suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday. There has been a great welling-up of faith to pray that she be returned to us. Even here in our present church, people who do not know the family in question are praying with us, and God is growing our faith to see the dead raised.
I want to reflect a little on raising the dead, and on the difference between being raised from death and resurrection (which it is commonly referred to as). I do so humbly, and praying that it will not be considered insensitive, but in hope that it might be helpful for some who are praying.
Raising the dead and resurrection are both awesome, but they are not the same thing, not interchangeable descriptions. Our resurrection bodies will be imperishable. Those raised back to life in this world will die again, at some future point, as those raised to life in the Bible did. There is no second-class, perishable resurrection; only one glorious, imperishable one. Those to whom God gives their resurrection body, we will not be reunited with again until we also receive our resurrection bodies. Those who are raised from the dead are reunited with those who love them in this world.
Jesus gave his disciples power and authority to heal the sick, drive out demons, and raise the dead in his name...and told them to pass all he commanded them on to every generation of disciples until he returns. Over the years, our faith for healing the sick and driving out demons has grown, as we have seen Jesus work with us confirming his word by the signs that accompanied it (as Mark’s Gospel ends, Mark 16:20). But we have yet to work with him in raising the dead, and he is raising our faith for that, as we stand on promises such as those recorded for us in John 14:12-14, John 15:16, and 1 John 5:14-15. We hope to see that now, but even if not we believe that we will see it one day, and that that day is coming nearer.
Jesus reveals the Father to us, and his actions and instructions reveal that it is the Father’s will that the sick be healed; the demonised delivered; and the dead (those whose lives have been stolen from us) raised. Resurrection is not (yet) for this world. Those who die in the Lord do so to his glory; and those who are raised back to life in this world are raised back to life to his glory.
Why does differentiating between raising the dead and resurrection matter? Not because God gets confused and might answer the wrong prayer, giving a resurrection body to someone we have asked to be returned to us - doing the very opposite of what we ask for. God knows what we pray, even if we can’t express it adequately. So does it matter? I think it does: because we are called to be disciples – learners – and we need to learn the difference between what is for this world in kingdom-partnership between our King and his people, and what waits for us as a future hope.
One day we shall experience resurrection. But for now, I am asking to see the dead raised, and that more and more. Lord, I believe; help, now, my unbelief.