One pleasure of a trans-Atlantic flight is being able to watch newly released films. On my recent trip to the UK I was able to watch Twelve Years a Slave and Captain Phillips, two of the films that featured in the 2014 Oscar Awards. However, the most intriguing and informative screen-work that I viewed on that trip was a documentary regarding the discovery of the remains of Richard III, King of England from 1483-1485.
Richard III had been viewed for many years as the lost king of England, in that his place of burial could not be identified. He was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1885. His army of 8000 men far outnumbered the opposing army of his opponent, Henry Tudor, who had 5000 men, but part of Richard’s own army turned against him during the battle and despite fighting bravely he was no match for his enemies.
Richard III was the last English King to die in battle. He was buried without pomp and ceremony in what is now the City of Leicester. The original tomb is believed to have been destroyed during the Reformation and for five centuries the place of his burial could not be identified. However, in 2012 a skeleton was discovered during excavation of a car park in Leicester, which later proved beyond doubt to be King Richard’s.
The conclusion that this was the remains of Richard III was based on the location of the skeleton, carbon dating, which places the time of death between 1460 and 1520, and a comparison between his mitochondrial DNA and that of two matrilineal descendants of one of Richard’s sisters. Despite the fact that Richard died over 500 years ago, it was still possible to identify his remains by his DNA. Amazing!
Watching the documentary on Richard III and the process by which his remains were identified got me thinking about a question that has been asked of me several times: How will God resurrect people whose bodies were completely destroyed by fire or by other means? In fact, some have instructed their loved ones to bury them when they die as opposed to cremating them, in that they are not quite sure how one whose body has been completely destroyed can be brought back to life. The identification of Richard’s remains, while not providing a full answer to that question, suggests that it really is not a big thing for God to bring all the dead back to life as the people they were before.
The science of DNA confirms that each of us has a particular DNA profile. It stands to reason that God knows what that profile is. Therefore, whether I am consumed by sea creatures, cremated or buried, God knows who I am and on the morn of the Resurrection will unite my DNA with a physical body. That will undoubtedly be me and not another. Only as I am ‘Donald McFarlane,’ with my unique experience, memories and preferences, will heaven be meaningful to me. At the end of the day, I really don’t need to worry about the process by which God will make me ‘me’ again. What is important is that I trust Jesus as Lord and as the “Resurrection and the Life,” as the One who has conquered death and the grave and who has chosen to share that conquest with me. It is that hope that we celebrate on this Resurrection Weekend at Sligo Church.
Don W McFarlane