His heart beats (In which Rachel over-analyzes her new favorite song)

Andrew Peterson released a new Easter album on Saturday and it's wonderful and you should go download it right now and listen to it on infinite loop for the next 50 days.

I mean, I assume it's all wonderful. I fell so in love with the first song that I've just been listening to that one on infinite loop since I first played it on the way home from the Great Vigil Saturday night. I'll get around to the rest of the album at some point, I'm sure.

The premise of the song took my breath away: it imagines the exact moment of the resurrection -- the first heartbeat, first breath, of Jesus' resurrected body. How have I never thought about it this way before? I asked myself. This was the most important moment that EVER HAPPENED, and yet I've never even thought about it.

But as the song looped over and over in the blessed night, I started having second thoughts. I remembered that part of the reason I've never thought about the moment of resurrection from Jesus' perspective is that Scripture is silent about it. So anything we say about it is imaginative speculation. Which isn't to say artists shouldn't engage in such speculation -- much great Christian art is the product of exactly that kind of imagining -- but there's a difference between our imagining and the teaching of the faith.

Just a couple days ago, I encountered another song (to which I will not link, in order to protect the guilty) that was also an imaginative retelling of part of the Easter story. I was appalled its theological vacuity and sentimentality. So I hesitated over my immediate affection for this song. It at least merited further reflection about how well-founded the speculation in question might be.

Further, I grew troubled that this depiction of the resurrection could give the impression that resurrection was simply reanimation of a corpse. Resurrection isn't just that a dead body stopped being dead. The resurrected body is transformed, glorified.

Peterson gives some indication of this in the lyrics:  "He rises / Glorified in flesh / Clothed in immortality / The firstborn from the dead." But what do these things mean? One could hear these lines and still imagine that the resurrection here described is essentially tantamount to waking up from a really, really deep coma. Which is not what the church teaches.

Just what, exactly, the glorification of the the resurrected body entails is largely mysterious. Immortality, clearly. And evidently some degree of liberty from the spatiotemporal constraints affecting our fallen bodies, to judge from some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Yet, still flesh. Still human. Still one's own body. And if that's the case, then whatever else resurrection involves, surely a beating heart would be part of it -- because it's still HIS body, it still contains HIS heart, and if living, that heart beats. Right?

And that's when I was confronted anew by the scandalous particularity of the Christian teaching about the resurrected body. Do I really believe this? If I believe that his heart beat on that first Easter morning, then I believe that his heart beatS, now. That right this moment, at some real place (whatever "at the right hand of the Father" means), there exists a human heart that has been beating continuously for nearly two thousand years, and will keep on beating forever. And not only that, all our hearts will someday start beating again, and keep beating forever.

At first blush, that idea seemed even more implausible than someone rising from the dead. And would it even be desirable, even if possible? I thought of the sentiment I've heard from multiple nonagenarians expressing a fatigue that my middle-aged self can't even comprehend -- not just of the day's labor, but of continuing to be alive -- as though their stubborn hearts just keep on beating willy-nilly, and while they don't actively wish to die, they would be happier to just stop living. Multiply that by 20, and then by infinity? Is that good news?

But then I remember that I'm using our fallen-world, perishable bodies with their tired hearts as a yardstick for the imperishable, glorious bodies of the resurrection; comparing apples to Easter eggs. A two-thousand-year-old beating human heart seems impossible because human hearts always die a long time before that, and when they die, they decay. But things that keep living keep being renewed. There are some plants that have lived for thousands of years and still grow, so a two-thousand-year-old organism is not inherently incredible. Furthermore, when we're imagining resurrected bodies, we're stipulating that God's already done the hard part -- undone death, and transformed a dead, decaying body into a glorified, immortal one. Compared to that, sustaining it for centuries -- forever -- is child's play. So as crazy as it sounds, yeah, I think I do believe that his heart beatS.

But do I, as Peterson sings, "know, I know, his heart beats"? Not quite. (And this is why I probably wouldn't program this song as part of a worship service, unless perhaps there was also going to be a sermon about the resurrected body that could caution against the mistake of reducing resurrection to reanimation.)

Since the exact nature of the resurrected body is so mysterious, I must hold my conclusions about it lightly. I believe he lives. I believe he still has his human body. (Lord, help my unbelief.) I think it makes the most sense that that would mean his heart beats. As John Updike put it in his justly-famous Seven Stanzas, "if he rose at all / It was as His body; ... The same valved heart / That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered." And yet, I don't know for sure that a beating heart is an essential part of what it means for a body to be human. God created human bodies in the first place, so he gets to decide what makes them human. If at the end of days he laughs and says, "Oh, the pump? That's so humanity 1.0! The new improved version runs on a flux capacitor!" I'm certainly not going to reply, "But I like my pump! If I can't bring it with me into the New Creation, I'm not coming!" Still, since when he created humanity in the first place, he called it "very good," I suspect he's not going to deviate too much from the original design.

Anyway. It's a cool song. It's even more cool when you remember that Jesus isn't a zombie, and Easter isn't just the celebration that someone who was grieved by his friends as dead for a couple of days came back to them. As Peterson also sings, "[He] put death to death / Where is your sting, O grave? / How grave is your defeat / How great, how great is his victory."

He is risen indeed.


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