[The following post originally appeared on the Times Colonist blog “Spiritually Speaking” (http://www.timescolonist.com/opinion/blogs/spiritually-speaking-1.61091/a-boomer-ponders-death-2-1.1267532)]

Death means disappearance from the material realm. When a person dies, that person is no longer accessible to the five senses of those who continue in the tangible realm of sense perception.

It is curious that, for so many people who remain in this time-bound horizontal domain, absence from this dimension is understood to mean annihilation. Because we no longer see someone, taste, touch, smell, or hear them, we assume they no longer exist. Like a line erased from a whiteboard, the dead person seems to have been eliminated. Nothing but a vague and fading memory is left.

What makes us assume that physical presence delineates the parameters of human existence?  Why is it necessary to conclude that absence from the realm of sense-perception means annihilation?

Many of the qualities we value most in life are imperceptible to our senses.

We may see the effects of love but we cannot taste, touch, smell, hear, or see love itself. It is possible to perceive the impact of kindness, but kindness itself does not exist in any material sense. Like the force of gravity, no one would deny the power of joy, happiness, gentleness, and compassion. But these qualities are only perceptible in their effects; they cannot be measured or seen in themselves.

Christian tradition sees in Jesus the embodiment of those invisible qualities that make up the true riches of what it means to be human. For a Christian, the name “Jesus” is shorthand for love, faithfulness, beauty, truth, kindness, compassion, gentleness, goodness, authenticity, integrity.

As the embodiment of these intangible traits Jesus was killed on a terrible day of injustice and violence. But, the Christian story affirms that after his death, Jesus was seen again on various occasions by his friends and on at least one occasion by a large crowd.

Paul testifies that after his death Jesus,

was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. (I Corinthians 15:4-6)

In whatever way one understands the concrete details of Paul’s claim, at the very least, it points to Paul’s experience and his deep conviction that the terrible injustice and violence Jesus suffered at the end of his physical life was unable to destroy the beauty and goodness embodied in Jesus.

Paul famously wrote,

Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13:8)

Essential to the Christian understanding of the nature of this love that “never ends” is that it always takes particular form.  Love is not a vague amorphous generalized force. Love always means a particular person loving someone or something specific. Love wears a face; it carries a name. Love lives in the details.

Resurrection affirms that death is not the end of the details. The end of a particular form of love does not destroy the particularities of the being who was for a time embodied in that form. Although the shape of love I presently call “me” will one day end, the essence of that “me” will be transformed into a new form that continues to bear the particularities of my unique being.

Paul affirms,

Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (I Corinthians 15:51,52a)

Death is a “change” of form, an end of one mode and a transformation into a new way of being. The invisible essence does not end; it is reborn.

The purpose of earthly existence is to live in such a way in this time-bound material realm that my hidden essence that transcends death may grow into fuller expression while I am still manifesting in this physical form.