Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. 2 Kings 13.20-21.
What a strange story! When I came across it in my Bible reading plan this morning, I skated over it initially but then felt myself being drawn back to it and urged to linger on it. It is a story that has long embarrassed protestant Christians who are uncomfortable with the belief held by some of their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters that relics – bones and other physical remains of dead saints – can still retain healing power; but that wasn’t an issue for me as I read and re-read this story. Rather, I suddenly found it becoming a wonderful illustration or commentary on something I had read only days before in Richard Rohr’s new book Immortal Diamond; namely that we all have access to “the force field of the resurrection”.
The force field of the resurrection. The phrase had really excited me when I first came across it; but what did it mean? Presumably a domain in which resurrection power is latent and ready to bring to life anything that enters that domain. But isn’t that precisely what the body of the man being buried entered when he was so unceremoniously tossed into Elisha’s tomb? And the effect of that force-field was to raise up what was dead and put it back on its feet. The key words there, however, are “what was dead”. It is axiomatic that only what is dead can be resurrected.
The idea that everything must die in order properly to come to life does, of course, underlie the whole of the teaching of the New Testament, starting with the teaching of Jesus himself …
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it'” (Matthew 16.24-25).
“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12.24-25).
In short: only that which we take to the cross and put to death will live for ever; because the force field of the resurrection of Jesus only operates within the tomb of Jesus.
For Paul, baptism is the key moment when a new follower of Jesus takes his old life to the cross and allows it to be placed in Jesus’ tomb. And here is how he understands the significance of that: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6.3-5).
But Paul is also well aware that the “putting to death” of things in our life in order that they may be brought fully to life is an ongoing thing. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Corinthians 4.11). Given over, Paul? By whom? By we ourselves. It is we who have to recognise that the things we cherish most in our lives are effectively dead unless they have entered and come back to us out of the force field of the resurrection and that we have no choice but to throw them into the tomb of Jesus if we want that to happen to them. Nobody can do it for us.
Jim Elliot understood this well. “He is no fool,” he said, “who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” And Jim Elliot did just that – quite literally losing his life along with four other missionaries as they attempted to take the Gospel to the Waodani people of Ecuador.
So this rather strange story in 2 Kings 13 turns out to have a powerful message for me – and perhaps for you too. There is a force field of resurrection power that alone can bring things to eternal life – but it is found only in the “tomb” of Jesus. God’s invitation to me this morning, and every morning, is to throw in there my very self and all that I hold precious; for then, and only then, can I and all that I love be brought back to life – real life – and endure for the age to come.
In her new book Help, Thanks, Wow Anne Lamott refers to our personal testimonies as our “resurrection stories”. That indeed is what they are. All we are and have in eternal terms has been and is being resurrected from the dead.