Every morning, five days a week, I drive next to a local graveyard. At this time of the year at 7 AM hundreds of tombstones look as if they are stretching themselves above the layers of the morning mist sunlit by the rising sun. For a few short moments it looks as if the graveyard is about to come to life
In the moments like these I think of the day when this and the millions of other known and unknown graveyards will burst with life – suddenly, audibly and aggressively: not with zombies or ghost-like creatures, but with the real resurrected people, the way Jesus was resurrected two thousand years ago. Amazed I wonder what will it look like when the thousands, millions and billions of beautiful and real people start abandoning their graves, and moving to a place of the greatest and most joyful regathering of God’s children ever!
Today I do not see graveyards as depressing and hopeless places. They are the witnesses of hope that, in their quietness, are shouting the words of the great English poet John Donne, “one short sleep past, we (will) wake eternally, and death shall be no more.” John Donne (1572 – 1631), Death Be not Proud.
Easter is about the redeeming resurrection of Jesus and about our own resurrection in a due time. It is not about sweet bunnies, colored eggs, or pagan celebrations of cyclical rebirths of impersonal life. Nor is it a flowery haiku poem dedicated to some vague concept of the newness of life that does not see beyond the grave. The message of Easter, liberated from all pagan and fictional décor, is that because Jesus was raised from the dead so will all his children in like manner be raised on the last day.
Paul the Apostle summarizes the Easter message with unmistaken clarity: “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him.” 1. Cor. 15:20-23. According to Paul resurrection is central to the Gospel of Christ. Whenever Paul preached Christ he preached the resurrection too. C.S. Lewis stated that “the resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought.” C.S. Lewis, Miracles. Likewise, all historic Christian creeds declare the faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and of all believers too.
The organic connection between the historic, bodily resurrection of Jesus and the certainty of our own bodily resurrection on the day of the Lord’s coming is well described by C.S. Lewis too: “The New Testament writers speak as if Christ’s achievement in raising from the dead was the first event of its kind in the whole history of the universe. He (Jesus) is the ‘first fruits’, the ‘pioneer of life’. He has forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. He has met, fought and beaten the King of Death. Everything is different because He has done so. This is the beginning of the New Creation: a new chapter in cosmic history has opened.” C.S. Lewis, The Business of Heaven. Like Christmas, which is inspiring us to look back and forward, so is the Easter a celebration of Advent. It leads us forward, in the holy anticipation and expectation to the time when the resurrection of Jesus will be multiplied across the world millions of times.
Although the resurrection of the dead is a central New Testament theme, integrated in the very heart of the Gospel of Christ, preaching about the resurrection is very much neglected, ignored, even twisted today. Even at most Christian funeral services it is unlikely one would hear a meaningful reference to the resurrection. Likewise, at this time of Easter it is a rare thing to hear a sermon clearly focused on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And it is even less likely one will hear about the coming bodily resurrection of the believers. Instead many sermons are decorated with the references to people being “resurrected” into their “imperishable, Christ-like bodies” at the moment of dying. I have heard preachers using the stories of people who have supposedly had near-death experiences to illustrate the hope of Easter, and the hope of resurrection.
The reason there prevails a general lack of clarity about the resurrection within a large segment of Christian Church today needs to be sought for in the overarching confusion in the understanding of what happens at the moment of one’s dying and what at the moment of resurrection. Although there is not much in the Bible about the “bodiless resurrection” into heaven at the moment of one’s dying, and whilst there are many biblical references about the coming bodily “resurrection of both, the righteous and the wicked” Acts 24:15, the two have over the centuries superstitiously blended into one and the same thing in the minds of an overwhelming number of Christians. This is why Paul’s thoughts on “going to be with the Lord away from the body” 2. Corinthians 5:8 are being repeatedly elaborated from the Christian pulpits, at Christian funeral services, and in Christian conversations, while the abundance of biblical references about the coming resurrection are hardly ever mentioned, or are only glossed over at best.
N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham for the Church of England and the internationally well-known biblical scholar, in his book “Surprised by Hope” powerfully argues that the first century Christian believers had a very clear understanding of the resurrection. He said, “They were not talking about Jesus’ soul going into heavenly bliss. Resurrection to them did not mean going to heaven or escaping death or having a glorious and noble postmortem existence but rather coming to bodily life again after bodily death… Resurrection in the first century meant someone physically, thoroughly dead becoming physically, thoroughly alive again, not simply surviving or entering a ‘purely spiritual’ world, whatever that might be… If the promised final future is simply that immortal souls leave behind their mortal bodies, then death still rules. “ N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope N.T. Wright.
At this time of Easter let us remember that resurrection is not “a virtual synonym for life after death” (N.T. Wright) or only reshaping of death, but the complete defeat of death. The words of the English poet John Donne declare the truth that “death shall be no more”. It was defeated completely through the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and not through some mystical and ghostly experience. The same truth will be declared again when the Lord who called the worlds into existence will call again all of his deceased followers into life again – life that will be perfect, complete, beautiful and everlasting. Be prepared, my friend. This day might be just around the corner.
Related article: Easter is not about Near-Death Experiences