Living this side of resurrection
There are two opposite dangers that face us in our Easter celebrations – or maybe they’re the two sides of the same coin.
The first is that we fail to recognise that what happens on Easter Sunday – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – is far bigger than a “reasonably significant event in the life of Jesus”. It is nothing less than a brand new future for the whole of creation. On Good Friday, the entire old world order of fallenness, despair, decay and death triumphs over Jesus. It is the end of Jesus’ mission and is the human race’s verdict on God’s salvation in Jesus: “Crucify him!”
Good Friday leaves everything in ashes. Sin wins. It is not so much that it defeats us: the horrifying thing is that we deliberately choose it over God. On Good Friday we choose to be godforsaken rather than saved. Until we understand the cosmic, eternal significance of what we choose to do in crucifying Jesus, we will not grasp the enormity of Easter Sunday.
For God chooses not to judge, condemn or withdraw. God does not let our Last Word stand. God does not allow us to reap the consequences of our addiction to self-destruction. Hatred and death get the Last Fling in Jesus’ crucifixion … but on Easter Sunday, we discover that the Last Word belongs to God – a word of Life and Love.
The Word of Resurrection that summons Jesus from the tomb is the freshly uttered Word of God that summons a new creation into being out of the ashes of the old. The old world order that has subsisted for as long as human beings have been in charge is dead and buried in Jesus. Cosmic destruction is complete; sin’s destructive power has been exhausted. Now, on Easter Sunday morning, God’s creative Word smashes the cosmic silence of Easter Saturday: “Let there be Life!” And as the risen Jesus steps from the tomb, the New Creation is born. The Light of Christ has come into the world. The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not been able to put it out.
Easter Sunday isn’t some sort of self-congratulatory “the Church got it right!” jamboree. It’s the time to recognise that we stand this side of the resurrection of Jesus, in a new world that was born on Easter Sunday over 2,000 years ago – a world determined not by death and futility, but by the inexhaustible, unfathomable, love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and welcome of the God of Resurrection.
The second danger is a false Christian triumphalism – behaving, believing and proclaiming as though we don’t have to engage with the brokenness and darkness of the world and of human living because Jesus has risen and these things no longer have any power. It sounds wonderfully faithful and courageous, and plays into our massive drives to avoid the difficult, insoluble, perplexing, destructive and frightening aspects of our existence. In truth, it can be little different from living in a La-la land of perpetual sunshine and happy endings because there genuinely are fairies at the bottom of the garden.
Jesus’ resurrection isn’t a portal into a different world: it’s the irreversible beginning of changing how this world works – rather like a beneficial form of climate change. Something has happened that means there is no going back. Death and futility no longer have the Last Word. And the Christian hope and conviction is that they will one day have no say at all, because this world will be transformed into the Kingdom of God.
The “today” in which Christian faith – following Jesus – has to be lived out is shaped by that “one day” – not in the sense of passive waiting, but of mission: actively shaping the world to take on the contours and structures of the Kingdom, which is its destiny under God because of Easter. When that happens, resurrection – New Creation – becomes gradually visible.
Mission plunges us back into the Jesus story. We experience the same tension that permeates the gospel narratives: to those who yearn and ache for a transformed world and hunger and thirst for God’s justice and peace, the Kingdom is news to be welcomed with outstretched arms and shouts of joy. For those who benefit from the way things are, the Kingdom is a threat to be neutralised by whatever means possible.
We still live in a world that crucifies messiahs. That is why Jesus calls on us as would-be disciples to take up our crosses and follow him. Resurrection doesn’t give us a free pass: it gives us what we need to live the Way of the Cross. There isn’t any other broader, safer road. There isn’t any other way to find Life. The new comes into being because the old dies. The life of faith – following Jesus – is not cost-free. It demands everything of us. At times, changing the world in the ways God calls us to do even costs our lives.
Easter faith doesn’t turn away from the Way of the Cross. Not out bravado, but out of the conviction that our lives – including our deaths – aren’t determined by the apparent triumphs of our Good Fridays, but by the God who raises the dead, so that we can share in the promised future of this world – what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.
St Paul calls this Easter faith “sharing in the sufferings of Christ”. Good Friday isn’t good in the sense that “suffering is good for us”. It denotes the deep mystery of God’s salvation: the broken, bloody man hanging on a Roman cross is the means by which God will give birth to the New Creation. It is as we walk the Way of the Cross that we are most visibly, authentically like Jesus. It’s all about dying and rising. And it’s a world away from La-la land. As we love the world enough to enter into its deepest, darkest, most hopeless places in order to change it, our scars proclaim the genuineness of our love, our connection with Jesus and our hope in the God who loves a new creation into being.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!