Monday, April 25, 2011

Treatise on Easter: What the Resurrection is all about!

Today is Easter, the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus raising from the dead. I am not going to spend significant time trying to convince anyone that the resurrection happened. I am assuming either you believe it or you don't. Though, I do believe that any student of life should honestly seek the validity of the claim. There are a lot of reasons to believe that it happened and only one to believe it didn't and "It's too mind blowing" isn't a good enough reason to dismiss it.

Let's begin, rather, with what the Resurrection means.

Resurrection is an interesting idea in itself. First, we have little to no information about it in the Old Testament (before Jesus). In the Old Testament the death/ end times scenario was pretty basic. There was a place called Sheol. Every single person went there, good or bad. There were glimmers about being with God. The Psalms talk of it, Elijah was raptured to it, and a few other occurrences, but basically sheol was the land of the dead ones. We even see the prophet Samuel being channeled by a medium out of Sheol to council King Saul (1 Samuel 28).

Somewhere in the inter-testimonial time (the 400 years between the Old Testament and Jesus) this whole idea of resurrection sprang up. For some strange reason we left off with Sheol and then all the sudden resurrection is the current idea. The Pharisees and the Sadducees have a long standing disagreement with each other over it of which Paul uses to his advantage. We even have a peculiar interchange with Martha and Jesus just before Lazarus is raised from the dead (which is definitely different than resurrection, more below) (found in John 11). Jesus makes a statement, "Your brother will rise again!" to which Martha responds, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." WHAT!?!? How does she know this? We left off with Sheol and now common women know all about resurrection. If this question is plaguing you, N. T. Wright has done some fabulous work on the resurrection, but we will move past it.

It seemed to be common belief that resurrection would happen with a decree from God. Then all the righteous would be raised. All the great heroes of the faith were supposed to rise. The only problem, "there is no one who is righteous, not even one" (Romans 3, Ecclesiastes 7). At least, there wasn't anyone righteous until now.

Jesus shows up on the scene. He brings his Kingdom, the inbreaking of God's dominion into human history. He lives the example and teaches the ways of God. He is the face of God revealed to us. He is the fullest expression of God. At one point fully human, at another fully God. He commits no sin. He dies an unjust death on a rebel's cross and is buried in a tomb. We will discuss the scandal of the cross for the messiah during another post, but know that is was crazy talk to have a dead messiah, especially in light of current ideas about resurrection.

But then, from out of nowhere, Jesus is resurrected. He is the only one righteous. On the one hand, it isn't so hard to believe. He told us numerous times that it was going to happen. On the other, it is so amazing, so fantastic, that it has to be a wishful thinking. Jesus defeats death and brings a myriad of other good news to the table.

So, what does resurrection mean?
Death has been defeated. Death doesn't get the final word. Jesus says in Revelation 1:17-18, "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades." Jesus has the keys, death has been defeated. And at the final judgment, it will be completely destroyed. St. Paul says it this way, "‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’"

Jesus says something super convoluted unless seen through the eyes of faith, "Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." What?!? You just said that we will die, but live on, but never die. Through Jesus, The Resurrection and The Life, death has been defeated.

Another thing is that God is bringing about New Creation. By new creation, we mean that God is going about restoring all things to their original glory, the way he originally made them. The evidence for this is a little more buried but there.

God, on the first few pages of scripture, creates the heavens and the earth. He loved his creation. It was all good. He creates man to bear his image and to tend his garden; Adam and Eve. The serpent and the fruit and the rebellion and the fall. The fall brings separation. Humans are separated from God. Man is separated from Woman. Humans are separated from the earth. Romans 5, in all the doom and gloom  about the human condition (fallen and on path to death) has some really beautiful passages. We see Jesus compared to Adam, "Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all." Adam brought corruption, Jesus brings something else. But even the idea of Jesus being compared to Adam shows that God is bringing new creation, starting over per se. All the divisiveness (between God, us, each other and nature) is vanished. "For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Romans 5). Reconciliation!

Wright points out that the Gospel of John makes it a point that Jesus was raised on the first day (Sunday). But the significance is not just to clarify what day it was, but that new creation is begun. This is furthered by the idea the Mary sees Jesus but supposes him to be the gardener. It is the first day and Jesus looks like a gardener. This new Adam has come to start all of creation anew. This is clearly amplified by the way John 1 parallels Genesis 1 and gives all credibility to Jesus as the creator and mediator of creation. New creation, a restoration of all things!

This is the greatest and best thing about the Resurrection; Reconciliation. We are a reconciled people. No longer does sin plague us (being wiped out in Jesus' death), but more than that, we have resurrection power for reconciliation. We are reconciled to God. We are in right relationship with him. This should trickle down through to the rest of our relationships. No longer should there be strife between people (men and women) who dwell in this resurrection. No longer should there be division between us and creation in this resurrection. We are a reconciling people. Our relationship with family, friends, neighbors should all be healthy. "Live in harmony with one another... if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all" (Romans 12).

All creation will be restored, including and especially us. "[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1, emphasis added).

Another pertinent thought to the resurrection has been alluded to. Jesus was the only one righteous and therefore the only one resurrected. There were plenty of people raised from the dead in scripture. This differs from resurrection because all those raised from the dead still went on to lead relatively normal lives. They got sick, hungry, sinned, and died. Resurrection is a new body. "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power" (1 Corinthians 15). The amazing grace of God is that this happens to us as well. We all get our own Easter. Jesus' righteousness is transferred to us through faith in him.

So, if your faith story tells you that Easter is about the salvation of souls, you are hearing Gospel-lite. We in Christianity have boiled down God's good news to 'going to heaven.' Salvation is seen as only being saved from hell. I profess to you good news of great joy, that you aren't 'saved from' anything, you are 'saved to' reconciliation with God. If hell and death and sin are the focal point of our 'good news' then we miss it.

I think of it like a movie. No one watches "Nightmare on Elm Street" and says, "wow, that movie was great, really edifying." Even though Freddy is stopped in the end and the people are reasonably safe, no one is at all believing that this is the good news. No, the Gospel is better than that but people still try to sell this story as gospel. They focus so much time and effort on winning souls, avoiding hell and sin's effects on our lives that the destruction of Freddy Krueger is good news, that not going to hell becomes the best news.

The Good news is Cinderella. A woman in broken relationships redeemed at the end by her savior. The Good News is Charlie, in poverty and brokenness with his community, receiving the golden ticket, meeting Willy Wonka and eventually inheriting the whole chocolate factory. The good news saves us to reconciliation between us and God, us and each other, us and nature. Though certainly there is hell, judgment and sin to be leery of, these things are secondary to the good news of Christ our Lord and his resurrection.

What does it mean: We live in community. (1) Communion with God reconciled with him and (2) community of the church as humans reconciled to each other. As the body of Christ (the church) we live out the final implications of the resurrection; we live out reconciliation.
  • We fight against injustice, poverty and violence because they are all counter to the resurrection reconciliation. Poverty is a disease of broken relationship with community. 
  • We fight to preserve creation and the environment because we do not expect to have our souls fly away to some 'other' place. This is God's place, his heaven will merge with this earth. As agents of reconciliation, we reduce our impact on the earth, for this is our home in the future resurrection. 
  • We protect life as sacred and valuable and part of creation. We are being restored to original glory. We understand more than anyone the Image of God in our lives. This includes children, those discarded as useless, the least of these and victims of violence and war. 
  • We promote peace at all cost, even our own lives, for we know the future hope of resurrection and the defeat of death. Peace makers are the truest children of God.
  • We embrace simple living  as a means to love our neighbor and not be seduced into pursuing reconciliation through anything else.
  • And on and on...
Resurrection is the lens through which all of life must be viewed. The new thing which God did and is doing is at work in the world today. We need to get on board. We need to stop focusing on souls and heaven and start focusing on reconciliation, restoration and resurrection. We need to stop focusing on hell and death and start focusing on light and life. We need to stop looking for the living among the dead, Jesus is risen!

Extra-Reading and Watching:

Ben Witherington quoting another about Resurrection. Here is another, older, post from Ben.

N. T. Wright interesting video:


Rob Bell on Easter: 

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