As a pastor, I’m often asked what the resurrection will be like. The most common kind of question? “Will we remember this life? Will we remember who we are?”
The short answer is yes. Jesus counts the historical Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as among the living (Matthew 22:31-32). Moses and Elijah got to see the promises they hoped for incarnate on the mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). We will remember this life, and we will still be ourselves.
But we can dig deeper here. The question they’re really asking is closer to this: “How can the life to come be so wonderful, how can every tear be wiped away, if I still remember a lifetime full of disappointment, failure, pain, loss, grief, shame and death?”
For the answer, look at the hands of Jesus. Look at his feet, his side. (John 20:24-29) What do you see there? What do you see on the hands of the first truly perfect and resurrected body?
That’s right. Scars.
Take a minute to consider the implications here: Jesus’ crucifixion was the most agonizing, heinous, unjust, violating, ugly, shameful moment in the history of all creation—both for Jesus personally and for all mankind. Now in the resurrection, not only is all of that healed, but God has transformed the ugliest thing of all and made it the most beautiful of all. Those scars mean that Jesus’ suffering had meaning. Those scars mean real atonement for sin and reconciliation with God and victory over death have been won for us. Those scars mean that the love of God—the life of God—can heal everything. Those are beautiful scars.
Now consider this: you share that same life. Jesus’ life was poured over you from the font and into you from the chalice. His life is read and preached into yours from lectern and pulpit. So that means Jesus’ suffering—his wounds, his scars—transform your own.
You’ve got wounds. Some closed. Some still raw and weeping. Wounds that time simply can’t heal. Wounds that will only be healed in the resurrection. That’s the inevitable result of being born a broken sinner to a sin-broken world. But because you share Jesus’ life these wounds aren’t simply meaningless pain. God promises to use them—painful as they are—for your good (Romans 8:28-30). Paul knew this well (Romans 5:1-11; 2 Cor 12:7-10): because of Jesus’ suffering, your suffering has meaning. Each wound you suffer—each wound Jesus will heal—even now helps form who you are. God uses your wounds to form how you relate to people, how you understand the world, how you live life, how you show mercy, how you trust Him.
You suffer humiliation, and learn to define yourself by what God declares of you—pure, honored, loved—rather than what man slanders. You learn what Baptism has done to you.
You lose your independence—financial, physical, or otherwise—and learn how utterly dependent we are on the others God has given us to care for us. You learn why the church is a family.
Your secret sin is exposed, and you learn the power of God’s grace as His love is declared for you in complete forgiveness and acceptance for Jesus’ sake. You learn the power of Gospel.
You’re touched by death—in your flesh or that of a loved one—and you learn to hope in God’s promises and yearn for His healing. You learn to hope in the resurrection, the New Creation.
These wounds and a thousand others God turns to burn away your dross, mold and shape and sculpt you, transforming something broken and ugly into the work of art you will be—the work of art you are in Christ. And when you stand above your grave in the resurrection and see the flesh and heart and mind that Jesus has now healed, you’ll see the tapestry of scars for what they are: God’s own fingerprints, marks proving His constant love. They will be beautiful scars.
So yes, you’ll remember this life, with all its pain and suffering. And you will thank God for every bit of it. Every tear will truly be wiped away, death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away, namely, your sin and brokenness (Revelation 21:4). You’ll be perfectly healed, perfectly at peace, and—as you’ll be unadulterated and unhindered by sin—more uniquely “you” than you’ve ever been before. You will see your Savior’s eternal scars with your own eyes, and Creation will resound forever with the memory of Jesus’ hideous, glorious, beautiful cross.