Andy Hawes 


In a Material World


In Lent we come to terms with our mortality. ‘Dust thou are and unto dust thou shalt return,’ we are told on Ash Wednesday. This is our physical reality. Or is it? We do claim in the Apostles Creed that we believe in the ‘resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.’ St Paul in his teaching on the resurrection in Philippians writes ‘our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a saviour Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.’

Our body, being part of creation, is to be transformed. This is a challenging concept to our mindset so influenced by a materialist world view and enslaved to science. We contemplate our mortality and physicality not because it is a final end, but because it the only means by which we can become citizens of heaven, inhabitants of the new creation.

The material world which we inhabit is not destined to ‘change and decay’, it is the raw material for a ‘new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells.’ The Romanian Orthodox writer  Dimitru Staniloae was of the opinion that the western church has a ‘depressed and negative view of creation.’ This is in a ‘solemn harmony with a rather negative view of human nature’. This observation demands some careful reflection. Is your view of creation positive and hopeful, and or is it overshadowed by the predictions of global warming and the catastrophic analysis of much of the news and media? 

   Although Jesus taught ‘the flesh is no help at all’ he did have a kingdom view of creation. In creation – the mustard seed, the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, clouds and the sea he saw the nature of God at work. Creation is the primary work of God’s grace; all is a gift and God has not stopped giving.  The sacramental life of the church takes the stuff of the material world bread, wine, oil, water; fruits of the earth and work of human hands to reveal the unfolding work of the creator moving inexorably to a new creation. Our fasting and any other ascetic practice is founded not on the assumption that the body is evil, and material world an enemy, but rather that we must use our wills live in a relationship with creation that in not overcome by physicality and materialism but experience them as  life giving, enriching partners with the Spirit at work in us.

This is the Easter Faith; the Resurrection of Jesus reveals the potential of the material to be transformed in the same way as the Transfiguration warned the disciples that the body of Jesus was not what it seemed. This is the same for us. We may be dust, and to do dust we will return, but that will not be the end. ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2.9).