The Heart Of It All (Part 10): Resurrection, Return & Our Christian Hope
Christian claim #10: “I believe in the resurrection of the flesh and the life everlasting.”
In the end, Christians believe in resurrection. Jim McGuiggan once quipped “Jesus died once…two thousand years ago…and he hasn’t been dead since.” The cross is certainly part of the great news from heaven to all of creation; but what makes it good news is that death is not the end of the story. The resurrection forms the center of the gospel of God. Christ came that we might have life, because he himself is the resurrection and the life. Christians proclaim that the Spirit is the giver of Life. And nothing declares that God is Father Almighty quite like saying that God raises the dead–first Jesus, then we ourselves–that death may be swallowed up in victory.
Christians affirm that resurrection hope is real. From the beginning, writes New Testament historian N. T. Wright, Christians have claimed that “something” happened–something real, tangible, and historical–on Easter Sunday. After all,
This “something” left, not just an empty tomb, but a broken loaf at Emmaus and footprints in the sand by the lake among its physical mementoes. It also left his followers with a lot of explaining to do, but with a transformed worldview which is only explicable on the assumption that something really did happen, even though it stretched their existing worldviews to breaking point.
In painstaking detail, Wright spends 700 pages combing through the ancient evidence only to arrive at this remarkable conclusion: “[L]et me underscore,” avers Wright, that it is “impossible…to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection.” In his doctoral dissertation, completed at the University of Munich, William Lane Craig adds more fuel to the fire: the best historical case to be made is that a certain execution, a reliable burial tradition, and an empty tomb demand an explanation; that God raised Jesus from the dead fits the historical data better than any alternative answer proposed.
The resurrection of Christ confirms our hope in a future reality that awaits us–the end of sorrow and shame, and the hope of glory. Our bodies may lie in the dust–sown in weakness; but they shall be raised in power by the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead…and now lives within us. We now “have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us;” for “we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” (Hebrews 6:18-20).The resurrection forms the center of the gospel. tell the world
Christians affirm that resurrection hope is relevant. Hope for the future means the past and present is both accountable and redeemable; without future hope, justice and peace are words without meaning. But in the resurrection of Christ, God announced vindication, exaltation, and salvation are in the offering. There is a future for the people of God, which means there is meaning and purpose in the present! According to Richard Hays,
The early Christians were not just saying that Jesus’s death and resurrection offered forgiveness of sins and the prospect that our individual souls could go to heaven when we die. They were saying that God was remaking the world, unseating the violent powers that have ruled over us, and undoing the power of death. Jeremy Begbie puts it like this: “The Gospel … tells of a seismic disturbance affecting every atom of creation. The world is and will be a different place because of what has happened in Jesus.”
Belief in future resurrection (on the basis of Christ’s completed resurrection) is ethical as well as political: it is a clarion call for every and all to set right what is wrong, to bind up the wounds and reconcile the separated. Our work for truth, beauty, goodness, and justice in the present matters because of the real and relevant future that awaits the people of God. The story is not over yet. The new day will dawn, in which the mere echoes of goodness, beauty, and truth which we have witnessed this side of His coming will give way to the fullness for which our hearts are longing.
The story is not over yet. The new day will dawn, in which the mere echoes of goodness, beauty, and truth which we have witnessed this side of His coming will give way to the fullness for which our hearts are longing.
Christians affirm that resurrection hope is radical. By raising the flesh (or, the body) of Jesus, God affirms the goodness of his creation. In Christ’s resurrection, we learn that God will leave no part of you behind. Resurrection is resurrection totale; and the whole person–called to live in total submission to the Father–will find a future in God’s new world. Raising the total person is, in turn, a signpost for an even larger vision: God’s redeemed future is cosmic in scope. The heavens that, even now, declare the glory of God, speak only a whisper of what shall be when God completes his project. On that glorious day of His appearing, Christ shall wield both perfect justice and perfect love. We who hope in his promises and delight in his coming will find that God’s redemption will abound “as far as the curse is found.” That which God calls good will find a home in God’s future, when God will be all in all. Language fails us in our attempt to capture what this might look like, and we are left with imagery and imagination. But God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” tells us that the future that awaits His people is more glorious–and more full–than anything we’ve experienced. And what kind of life will we experience? A total sharing in the life of God. This is not simply “everlasting life” (in the sense of duration); we will share in the “life everlasting”–the quality of life that belongs to the Everlasting One. Dwelling in, and sharing in, the Divine love of the Father, Son, and Spirit, we will experience total transformation into the likeness for which we are destined.
Isn’t that good news? Faith is necessary for Christian doctrine; love is essential for Christian practice. But hope–genuine hope in the reality to which all doctrine points and all practice imitates–is why we chose the Christian way in the first place…and why we hold to our faith and practice our love in the long wait between the times. The story is not over yet. The new day will dawn, in which the mere echoes of goodness, beauty, and truth which we have witnessed this side of His coming will give way to the fullness for which our hearts are longing. In his sermon entitled “The Weight of Glory,” C. S. Lewis hinted at the power of this hopeful vision:
“The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
But that far off country is nearer to us now than when we first believed. In the raising of Christ, God announced the beginning of His return. The wait will soon be over.
Let Sarah Coakley offer a final word, not only for this post, but for this entire series as well:
So here is the great truth at the heart of Christian faith – resurrection. Stake your life on it, struggle with it, and everything will change. Die, turn, see … and then live in this mystical body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people walk with you on this great adventure of the Christian life of redemption, joy and fulfilment, and which will hold you in all your frailty and glory, unto your life’s end. For Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.
photo credit: The Resurrection, by Luca Giordano (1632-1705)