George S. Tate, “The Resurrection as Olive Branch: A Meditation,” in Behold the Lamb of God: An Easter Celebration, ed. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Frank F. Judd Jr., and Thomas A. Wayment (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008), 165–84.
The Resurrection as Olive Branch: A Meditation
George S. Tate
George S. Tate was a professor of humanities and comparative literature at Brigham Young University when this was published.
This chapter is perhaps less a doctrinal exposition than a personal meditation on the Resurrection. I would like to begin with one of the most poignant moments in all of sacred music; it occurs near the end of Bach’s St. John Passion. In this work, Bach has set every word of the Passion narrative found in the Gospel of John—from the betrayal, through the Crucifixion, to the burial. In addition, Bach intersperses, among passages sung by the Evangelist, choral pieces and arias that comment on the action in various ways. The aria that I find so touching comes just after Jesus says, at the end of His agony on the cross, “It is finished,” and the Evangelist then says, “And he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). Here Bach inserts this introspective, lyrical bass aria, in which a witness to the Crucifixion—representing any one of us—wonders what the words “It is finished” and the bowing of the head imply:
My beloved Savior, let me ask Thee,
since . . . Thou hast Thyself said, “It is finished”
does this mean that I am freed from death?
Can I gain the heavenly kingdom
through Thy suffering and dying?
Is the redemption of the whole world at hand?
Thou canst not speak for agony,
yet Thou bowest Thy head
and sayest in silence, “Yes”!
As Bach has arranged the text, Jesus’s last mortal act, the bowing of His head, affirms that the Atonement has indeed been accomplished, that we are freed from death, that we can return to God, and that redemption is available to all.
Note that it is before the Resurrection, Bach’s contemplative witness asks, “Does this mean that I am freed from death?” I would like to explore what may seem an odd question: What is the relationship between the Atonement and the resurrection of the body? Was not the Atonement completed with Christ’s death on the cross? The price of sin was paid through Christ’s agony in Gethsemane and His sacrifice on Golgotha. The Savior took our sins upon Him and, bearing them, was slain for us. The scriptures tell us that from Adam to the time of Christ, the offering of sacrifices prefigured the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb of God (see Moses 5:6–7). But in none of these offerings was the sacrificial lamb required to rise again in order for the offering to be acceptable and complete.
Why, then, the resurrection of the body? Did not Christ, acting under direction of the Father, create the physical world even though He had not yet obtained a physical body? As Jehovah, God of the Old Testament, He worked miracles with the elements: the Flood, the parting of the Red Sea, water from the rock, and the fire called down upon the altar. He touched the stones made by the brother of Jared (who by faith saw His finger, then His whole spirit body) and caused the stones to give forth light (see Ether 3:6–13). If a physical body is not necessary to exercise power over matter, why should the Resurrection be necessary at all?
In times of grief, we often speak of the comfort of the Resurrection. We find a certain consolation in the reverence we show to the body at death: clothing it in temple robes when appropriate, treasuring it up in a casket, gathering around it for family prayer, dedicating the grave as its resting place and as a place of remembrance. But it is not as if at death the loved one ceases to exist or remains static and dormant until the Resurrection. Despite our metaphors of rest or sleep, we know—some from personal experience—that the spirit continues after death as an active individual. Thus, the continuity of life is, paradoxically, not broken by death. The person, having been tested in the body in this world, has accomplished this estate and continues in a spirit body, which Doctrine and Covenants 131:7 tells us is also matter, but matter more refined than that which makes up our flesh: “All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes.” Is not this knowledge of continuity, and the assurance that we will be reunited in the spirit with our deceased loved ones when we die, sufficient comfort? It was, after all, in His spirit body that Christ created the physical world. There would seem to be little by way of limitation.
Why is it, then, that the resurrection of the body is necessary in the eternal scheme of things? We may first ask ourselves how we view the body. I remember several medieval poems which imagine spirit and body debating with each other at death—the spirit blaming the body for corrupting it, the body blaming the spirit for not having tamed it, and so on. The disparagement of the body is fairly common in Christian tradition: one of the early major debates on the nature of the Godhead concerned whether Christ could be equal with the Father since He took on flesh and was therefore tainted with corruption. Latter-day Saints do not share this question, but there is, I think, some ambivalence toward the body in our culture.
On the one hand, we value the body, knowing that its acquisition is one of the chief reasons for our coming to earth, yet we often find ourselves in conflict with its appetites and limitations as we strive for greater spirituality. Paul writes of this struggle in Romans: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:22–24).
Maybe an analogy would help us see this ambivalence more clearly: no artist has ever been more deeply convinced than Michelangelo of the natural nobility, beauty, and expressiveness of the human form—God’s highest creation. As he writes in a sonnet:
Nor does God, in his grace, show himself to me
anywhere more than in some fair mortal veil;
and that alone I love, since he’s mirrored in it.
The human form was for Michelangelo the center of all his art. And yet his early engagement with Neoplatonism led him to view the body, composed as it is of matter, as a prison from which the soul, drawn to the higher realm, struggles to be free. He saw a relationship between this struggle and his work as a sculptor—which he described as freeing the captive form from the marble (fig. 1). As he writes in poem to his friend Vittoria Colonna:
Just as, by taking away, lady, one [makes
in] hard and alpine stone
a figure that’s alive
and that grows larger wherever the stone decreases,
so too are any good deeds
of the soul that still trembles
concealed by the excess mass of its own flesh,
which forms a husk that’s coarse and crude and hard.
At the beginning of another famous sonnet, Michelangelo write again of the form inherent in the marble, waiting to be released:
Not even the best of artists has any conception
that a single marble block does not contain
within its excess, and that is only attained
by the hand that obeys the intellect.
Michelangelo’s ambivalence is clear: the human form mirrors the divine, yet the soul, like the form the sculptor seeks to liberate from marble, is imprisoned in a husk of coarse flesh.
Returning to Paul, we should remember that even though he wrote to the Romans about the body’s warring members, he also called the body “the temple of God,” “the temple of the Holy Ghost,” and a member of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:15; 6:19). Paul wrote further to the Corinthians: “For we that are in this tabernacle [of flesh] do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed [that is, rid of the body], but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). He refers to our being “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2), our resurrected body, as receiving an “exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
To come back to our question, why the resurrection of the physical body if the continuity of being is not broken at death and the spirit body has the capacity to act on matter? The answer I find most satisfying is that the Resurrection is an olive branch proffered to the body; it completes the Atonement—indeed, completes creation—by eternally reconciling matter and spirit. That is, the Resurrection affirms and hallows the body and the physical world from which its elements derive.
It is in this context that we might consider the familiar passage in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” John does not say, “God so loved His children, who of necessity had to be in the world in order to be tested,” but that He loved the world. The passage continues: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). This does not mean, of course, that there is no sense in which the world must be overcome—remember President Gordon B. Hinckley’s vivid phrase, “the slow stain of the world,” when he introduced the proclamation on the family—but it does mean that the world, as physical creation, was and is lovable. (The Greek often uses different words for these two senses of world: kosmos, physical creation, for the world God so loved, and aiōn, our word “aeon” or “age,” for the world we must not love.) God pronounced the world’s physical creation good; it was baptized by water and will be by fire; it groaned at the Crucifixion of the Savior; and it will be renewed physically and “crowned with celestial glory.” The joyous rebirth of growth each spring prefigures this ultimate renewal. The earth, and the fulness thereof (see Psalm 24:1; 1 Corinthians 10:26).
It was, after all, in His physical body that Christ showed us the way; it was through His body that the Atonement was effected; it is by His body that the Atonement is symbolized and renewed in the sacrament (see 2 Corinthians 4:10); it was through the gesture and breath of His resurrected body that Christ bestowed peace and the gift of the Holy Ghost upon His disciples (see John 20:21–22). Christ bore witness of His divinity by inviting His Nephite followers, one by one, to touch the wounds of His resurrected body (see 3 Nephi 11:14–15). Through His incarnation and through the Resurrection of His body, the Savior validated matter and confirmed for us that embodiment is integral to eternal life, even to godhood. In this, as in all else, He showed us the way.
Hence it is in the body that we must receive the saving ordinances; spirits cannot receive them except by the proxy of a body. The body is our partner in testing: it is both the instrument through which we are most directly tempted and the schoolmaster that teaches us through pain and sensory perception. The body is the tangible record of our own earthly history. It is not a husk or a prison, nor is it something we possess as we possess a car, but it is part of us—so much so that even the righteous “dead [look] upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage” (D&C 138:50). Bondage does not consist, as the legacy of Platonic dualism would have it, of being in the body, but of being separated from it.
In an 1833 letter to W. W. Phelps, Joseph Smith called the revelation that comprises Doctrine and Covenants 88 the “olive leaf . . . plucked from the Tree of Paradise, the Lord’s message of peace to us.” From this passage I have adapted my title. Section 88 contains the deepest doctrine of the Resurrection in modern scripture. In verses 15–16 we read: “The spirit and the body are the soul of man. And the resurrection from the dead is the redemption of the soul”—that is, the redemption of the unity of body and spirit. These verses suggest to me that it is, finally, impossible to separate spiritual death from physical death. Paul writes that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23); that is, we inherit physical death from Adam’s transgression and spiritual death from our sins. To think of the solution to spiritual death as a cleansing only, a washing away of sins, is to forget that it is a death at all. If a death, then its remedy lies in rebirth: resurrection on the morning of the First Resurrection, effected through the Savior’s sacrifice, prefigured in His own Resurrection, and symbolized by our baptism—the token of our spiritual rebirth. As Jacob writes, “For behold, if the flesh should rise no more our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil, to rise no more” (2 Nephi 9:8).
It is in the unity of matter and spirit that we are redeemed and experience joy. According to Doctrine and Covenants 93:33–34, “The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy: and when separated, man cannot receive a fulness of joy” (emphasis added). As the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “The great principle of happiness consists in having a body.”
I especially love President Howard W. Hunter’s words about the centrality of the Resurrection: “But the doctrine of the Resurrection is the single most fundamental and crucial doctrine in the Christian religion. It cannot be overemphasized, nor can it be disregarded. Without the Resurrection, the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a litany of wise sayings and seemingly unexplainable miracles—but sayings and miracles with no ultimate triumph. No, the ultimate triumph is in the ultimate miracle.” In other words, even though Christ’s last words from the cross were, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and Bach’s contemplative witness finds affirmation for his question, “Does this mean that I am freed from death?” the triumph over death is ultimately expressed, and the Atonement completed, only through the holy Resurrection.
The Resurrection is the olive branch of peace to the body. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, has many associated meanings, including welfare, safety, tranquility, and friendship; but its primary meaning is completeness, wholeness, and even perfection. This meaning of wholeness underlies Jesus’s words to the woman who touched His robe in the crowd: “Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). As I have thought of this miracle and other miracles in which Jesus connects peace and wholeness, I remember the stress laid upon physical health in modern revelation: the Word of Wisdom, blessings pronounced in the temple, and the possibility of the spiritual renewal of the body mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 88:67: “Your whole bodies shall be filled with light” and shall comprehend all things. All these things point ahead to the ultimate peacemaking between body and spirit, in which the body will be born again out of the baptism of its mortality and integrated with the spirit in perfect, glorified wholeness. This is to me a joyous prospect, and it must be especially joyous to people whose particular calling it is to suffer chronic ill health—lameness, blindness, or another ailment—who wait patiently, often in pain, for promises to be fulfilled.
In London on study abroad, I have several times taught a course on the First World War and its impact. As part of the program, my classes and I have visited some of the battlefields and memorials associated with the Battle of the Somme, on the first day of which the British alone suffered nearly 60,000 casualties. One of these monuments is the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme (figs. 2–3). On the monument’s great piers, which can be seen for miles around, are inscribed the names of over 73,000 British soldiers whose bodies were never found, having been torn apart or pulverized by high explosive artillery or ground into the mud during the relentless action. These soldiers fought on a mere fourteen-mile section of the five-hundred-mile front. There are nearly one thousand well-kept British cemeteries from World War I in France and Flanders, one hundred seventy of them alone within a fourteen-mile radius of Albert on the Somme, but on every battlefield you are reminded that you are walking over the unrecovered dead who lie outside of these. Over nine million soldiers died in the war—the greater part of a whole generation lost. On such ground, one feels overcome with a sense of pathos and reverence (fig. 4). As one of my students wrote in her journal: “It was so . . . I really struggle with putting it in words. Very sobering. Very tragic. Heartrending. Unfair. Wasteful. Peaceful. Made me grateful. It made me think of the Resurrection. What a time that will be for those places!”
Having found some comfort in being able to show reverence to the body in my own deepest experiences of grief, I think of these missing young men on the Somme, torn to bits and ground into the mud; of my great-great-grandmother buried with her unborn child at sea on her way from Denmark to Zion; and of a Latter-day Saint father—about whom Robert Matthews has written in one of the most profound discussions of the Resurrection I have read—a father who had lost hope of ever seeing his son again, even in the next life, because his son was killed in World War II as his ship exploded and disappeared into the Pacific. In his grief, the absence of his son’s body overtaxed his faith in a resurrection; he could not imagine that elements so scattered could ever be reconstituted.
When our son Doug was a graduate student in biophysics at Johns Hopkins, he gave a formal presentation on nerve regeneration—why the axons in the human central nervous system do not regenerate after injury, whereas those of the peripheral nervous system do. The axon of a single cell of the central nervous system is just one minuscule element of the living body. The difference between one axon’s possible regeneration—the secret of which still remains to be discovered—and the regeneration of a whole body whose elements have long since decayed and dispersed is astronomical. And the difference between one such regeneration and the resurrection of every body that has ever clothed a spirit over the whole history of the earth is simply beyond comprehension.
How this great peacemaking will work, by what deep miraculous power the disparate elements that made up the body will once again be united so that—as we are promised—not a mote or a hair is lost (see D&C 29:25), we cannot begin to grasp, but I testify that these promises are true. The triumph of this miracle is so great that Easter eclipses every other day. Thus George Herbert, the seventeenth-century religious poet, ends his poem “Easter”:
Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.
 BWV 245, no. 32. The German text, given below, is from Alfred Dürr, Johann Sebastian Bach, St John Passion: Genesis, Transmission, and Meaning, trans. Alfred Clayton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 164. For greater directness I have omitted the struck-out phrase in my translation:
Mein teurer Heiland, laß dich fragen,
nunmehr ans Kreuz geschlagen und selbst gesagt: Es ist vollbracht,
Bin ich vom Sterben frei gemacht?
Kann ich durch deine Pein und Sterben
Das Himmelreich ererben?
Ist aller Welt Erlösung da?
Du kannst vor Schmerzen zwar nichts sagen;
Doch neigest du das Haupt
Und sprichst stillschweigend: ja.
This is one of five poems, in free form, which Bach adapted from a 1712 Passion libretto by Barthold Heinrich Brockes: Der für die Sünden der Welt gemarterte und sterbende Jesus (Jesus, tortured and dying for the sin[s] of the world)—a libretto Telemann, Handel, and other composers set in its entirely. Bach, however, began with the whole text of John 18–19, then added a chorale and twelve short texts from various sources, including Brockes (see Christoph Wolff, Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician [New York: W. W. Norton, 2000], 292–93). The German “Es ist vollbracht” (line 3) is somewhat more forceful than the King James Version’s “It is finished”; the verb suggests “brought fully to completion, brought to wholeness.”
 Sleep is, of course, a frequent metaphor for death, and this can lead to some confusion between literal and figurative senses. A good instance of this is in John 11, when Jesus tells His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth [kekoimētai ‘has fallen asleep’]; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep [tēs koimēseōs tou hypnou]. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead” (vv. 11–14). See also Paul’s figurative use of sleep with reference to Christ as “the firstfruits of them that slept [tōn kekoimēmenōn]” (1 Corinthians 15:20). The Greek verb koimaō used in these examples underlies our word cemetery, from koimētērion “dormitory, a place for sleeping.” It is sometimes pleasant to imagine that the spirit is dormant, that it sleeps (rests in peace) between death and the resurrection. The Prophet Joseph Smith implies this in his memorial sermon on the death of Lorenzo Barns, the first Latter-day Saint missionary to be buried abroad: “It is pleasing for friends to lie down together locked in the arms of love, to sleep, & locked in each others embrace & renew their conversation” when they “rise up in the morning” (Joseph Smith diary, by Willard Richards, April 16, 1843, in The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1980], 195). But it is clear from various sources, especially Doctrine and Covenants 138, that the spirit is not dormant. Rather it is the body, whole or dispersed, that sleeps: “Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 138:17; emphasis added).
 The fullest and most dramatic of these poems is “Als I lay in a winteris nyt: A Debate between the Body and the Soul,” in John W. Conlee, ed., Middle English Debate Poetry: A Critical Anthology (East Lansing, MI: Colleagues Press, 1991), 18–49. Such poems exist in various vernaculars and in Latin; for the latter, see Eleanor Kellog Heningham, “An Early Latin Debate of the Body and Soul, Preserved in MS Royal 7 A III in the British Museum” (PhD diss., New York University, 1939).
 See “Arianism” in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which begins: “First among the doctrinal disputes which troubled Christians after Constantine had recognized the Church in A.D. 313, and the parent of many more during some three centuries, Arianism occupies a large place in ecclesiastical history.” Arius “described the Son as a second, or inferior God, standing midway between the First Cause and creatures. . . . Using Greek terms, [Arianism] denies that the Son is of one essence, nature, or substance with God; He is not consubstantial (homoousios) with the Father, and therefore not like Him, or equal in dignity, or co-eternal, or within the real sphere of Deity ” (Charles G. Herbermann and others, eds., Catholic Encyclopedia , s.v. “Arianism,” now available online at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01707c.htm [accessed May 23, 2007]).
 Poem 106, in James M. Saslow, trans., The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 238. Saslow cites and translates from the text of the standard edition by Enzo Girardi (1960). The Italian reads:
né Dio, suo grazia, mi si mostra altrove
più che ’n alcun leggiadro e mortal velo;
e quel sol amo, perch’in lui si specchia.
 Poem 152, Saslow, The Poetry of Michelangelo, 305. The Italian text:
Sì come per levar, donna, si pone
in pietra alpestra e dura
una viva figura,
che là più cresce u’ più la pietra scema;
tal alcun’opre buone,
per l’alma che pur trema,
cela il superchio della propria carne
co’ l’inculta sua cruda e dura scorza.
 Poem 151, Saslow, The Poetry of Michelangelo, 302; emphasis in original. The Italian is below:
Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto
c’un marmo solo in sé non circonscriva
col suo superchio, e solo a quello arriva
la man che ubbidisce all’intelletto.
For further discussion of Michelangelo’s aesthetics and poetry, see Robert J. Clements, Michelangelo’s Theory of Art (New York: Gramercy, 1961).
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stand Strong against the Wiles of the World,” Ensign, November 1995, 100. The phrase “the slow stain of the world” ultimately derives from Shelley’s “Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats,” lines 356–57: “From the contagion of the world’s slow stain / He is secure” (The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley with Notes by Mary Shelley [New York: Modern Library, 1994], 495).
 This pattern is not completely consistent and varies somewhat according to author. John, for example, uses only kosmos, though his sense is usually neutral (physical creation without moral overtones), except perhaps in 16:33, “I have overcome the world,” and 17:14, “the world hath hated them.” For an example, see the high-priestly prayer in John 17, in which the word kosmos occurs fifteen times (vv. 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 , 15, 18 , 21, 23, 24, 25). Some morally laden instances of aiōn for “world” are Matthew 13:22, “care of this world” (Parable of the Sower); Romans 12:2, “be not conformed to this world”; 1 Corinthians 2:8, “the princes of this world”; 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world”; Galatians 1:4, “deliver us from this present evil world”; Ephesians 6:12, “the rulers of the darkness of this world”; and 2 Timothy 4:10, “having loved this present world.”
 See Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 181: “This earth will be rolled back into the presence of God, and crowned with celestial glory”; compare D&C 88:25–26).
 From the section heading of Doctrine and Covenants 88; see also Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2nd ed. rev. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 1:316.
 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 181.
 Howard W. Hunter, “An Apostle’s Witness of the Resurrection,” Ensign, May 1986, 16.
 For a more complete discussion of the relationship between peace and wholeness, see George S. Tate, “The Peace of Christ,” Ensign, April 1978, 44–47.
 This is explicit, for example, in John Oxenham’s poem inscribed at the entrance to the Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel, its grassy battlefield and trenches preserved in part to commemorate a regiment almost completely destroyed on the first day of the Somme:
Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head, and heart abased, strive hard
To grasp the future gain in this sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men,
Who, for their faith, their hope,—for Life and Liberty,
Here made the sacrifice,—here gave their lives,
And gave right willingly—for you and me.
Much of the countryside of Northern France and Flanders is a boneyard still; every year farmers turn up the bones of the dead as they plow their fields.
 Sharon J. Harris journal, July 14, 2000, used by permission; ellipsis in original.
 See Robert J. Matthews, “Resurrection: The Ultimate Triumph,” in Jesus Christ: Son of God, Savior, ed. Paul H. Peterson, Gary L. Hatch, and Laura D. Card (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2002), 332–33.
 Douglas H. Bradshaw, “Axon Regeneration: A Receptor for Nogo-66 Is Identified,” paper presented to the Department of Biophysics, Johns Hopkins University, April 2, 2001.