God’s new world of justice and joy, of hope for the whole earth, was launched when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and I know that he calls us to live in him and by the power of his Spirit and so to be new-creation people here and now, bringing signs and symbols of the kingdom to birth on earth as in heaven. —N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
When I was growing up, my faith tradition taught me that because of the resurrection of Jesus the disturbing vagaries and woes of this world are entirely sufferable. The belief is that one day, at the appointed time, we will leave it all behind—along with those who are wicked—to be destroyed in cataclysmic fire. In contrast, the faithful followers of Christ, endowed with spiritual bodies, will gather eternally in heaven where there will be no more tears, no more suffering, and we will worship God’s glory day without end.
Though I accepted this teaching, the truth is that secretly I’ve felt all along that this interpretation was unsatisfactory. I’ve felt this way firstly because, to be honest, I love this world—I really do! I don’t mean in the hedonistic sense, as “I love this world for the pleasure it brings to me;” but rather I find this earth of ours to be quite marvellous. From the abyss of wonder wrought by gazing into the deep heavens on a starry night, to the serene calm of a canoe on a still lake, I find the vast beauty of it all to be staggering. Notwithstanding the terrors and consequent sorrows nature inflicts on us from time to time, I have always sensed the deep-down goodness and meaningfulness of creation, and I don’t harbour one drop of awaiting glee for its expiry. Even as a child, I particularly loved our tradition’s creation story, where at the end of each day’s work God looked over all He had done and couldn’t help but remark how good it was, and ended on the last day with what I imagined to be a deep and contented sigh as He pronounced it all to be “very good.”
Later in life, a friend pointed out to me that in one of the Bible’s most quoted verses, John 3:16, the word “world,” which God apparently so loves, should have been translated differently. The original language says “ton cosmon” meaning the whole cosmos: “For God so loved the whole cosmos, that He gave His only Son…” Something resounds quite deeply for me here even as I tap away on my laptop, itself a testament to the wonder of creation which includes a vital role for human imagination and ingenuity.
…the world is beautiful not just because it hauntingly reminds us of its creator but also because it is pointing forward: it is designed to be filled, flooded, drenched in God, as the chalice is beautiful not least because of what we know it is designed to contain or as a violin is beautiful not least because we know the music of which it is capable. —N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
The second reason why I’ve always felt unsatisfied by my faith tradition’s eschatology (teaching on the end times) is that even though I believe there are people who are truly wicked—and that wickedness itself must be judged for what it is—I actually haven’t met many of them. And I’ve met a lot of people. My work as a singer/songwriter has taken me around the globe several times. I’ve met and dined with, laughed with, and cried with people from different religions, ideologies, orientations and world views…and I’ve found each person to be a gift. I can’t shake the suspicion that every person who has ever lived is first and foremost God’s good idea. Disagreements and mutual misunderstandings aside, each individual is a world of wonders as complex and profound as the galaxies—and that is just the material marvel. There is also the wonder of personhood itself, embodied in music and dance, feasting and love making, labouring and cultivating, and an endless line of meaningful events that are given and received year after year, century after century—and whose glorious exchange culminates in rich memory and traditions which testify to a meaning-drenched universe flowing from the heart of God.
So, what then might resurrection mean?
Renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has much to say on the meaning and importance of resurrection for the Christian community.
First, resurrection implies there is something in need of re-creating—that something has gone wrong. We are not willfully blind to our history of terrible wars, human brutality, desires corrupted into lust, and adoration devolving into possessiveness. We know well there is a sinful impulse to devalue and control the other, even nature itself, which we were given to steward, not to exploit.
Resurrection also implies divine intervention. Human effort and ingenuity aside, all our science and social innovations, as well-meaning as they may be, will not bring about the utopia our misdirected hopes presume. Instead, we need a God whose love will not let us go, and who will resolutely not let the way of death be the last word.
Resurrection, finally, may not imply destruction as much as re-creation. It is interesting to note that the first witnesses, before seeing the risen Christ in the flesh, noticed and recorded that the pre-resurrection body of Jesus was gone, no longer in the tomb. In other words, His glorified body used the material of the previous one, and the earliest disciples understood the significance of this. Quite simply: matter matters. Otherwise, why would we bother at all, in this life, with issues of well-being and justice? Why would we care at all about the despoiling of nature? Why would we give of ourselves for the flourishing of another person or cause except as a witness to God’s redeeming love for “ton cosmon.”
Redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting over again from a clean slate, but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.
—N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope
Could it be that Jesus taught us to pray “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” precisely because that has been God’s plan all along? His intent was not the earth’s destruction and our escape to an immaterial bliss, but rather the marriage of heaven and earth, of which Jesus is the first fruit, and we are, as Wright describes, the witnesses in word and deed to God’s “future-arrived-in-the-present,” speaking of what is to come—indeed, of what is already here.
“Christ has risen!” cries the priest. “He has risen indeed! Alleluia!” responds the congregation with a mighty shout. And our alleluias are neither naïve nor fortified by false opiates, but are invigorated by our risen Lord, who sends us out with the gospel of repentance and forgiveness so that the new creation may be seen in the flesh, and so there may be real hope and joy now even as we await the final resurrection.
WAS IT A MORNING LIKE THIS
music and lyrics by Jim Croegaert
(recording by Steve Bell)
Was it a morning like this
When the sun still hid from Jerusalem
And Mary rose from her bed
To tend the Lord, she thought was dead
Was it a morning like this
When Mary walked down from Jerusalem
And two angels stood at the tomb
Bearers of news she would hear soon
Did the grass sing
Did the earth rejoice to feel you again
Over and over like a trumpet underground
Did the earth seem to pound he is risen
Over and over in a never ending round
He is risen
Was it a morning like this
When Peter and John ran from Jerusalem
And as they raced for the tomb
Beneath their feet, was there a tune
The above is excerpted from Steve Bell’s Pilgrim Year: Eastertide —an online, multimedia devotional on the spirituality of the Christian calendar year.
To access the Eastertide collection, or the whole series, which includes Advent, Christmastide, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide and Ordinarytide, visit: pilgrimyear.com