Updated: Apr 1, 2021
P Easter Hope
by Matthew T. Martens
There was a lot of death in 2020.
Kobe Bryant died. Kenny Rogers died. Regis Philbin died. Eddie Van Halen died. Alex Trebeck died.
My best friend from middle school died of a stroke. One of my middle school teachers died of COVID-19.
Lots of people died of COVID-19. Lots and lots. A friend’s father died of COVID-19 a few weeks ago.
There was a lot of death in 2020.
There will be a lot more death in 2021.
Death and taxes, as they say, are the only sure things. I follow a Twitter account that posts the same thing over and over every day: “You will die some day.” Which is true. And yet the reality that we will all die – are all dying – makes death no easier when it actually happens to friends from middle school or beloved teachers or elderly parents.
Often, when Christians lose a loved one, I hear them say or see them post on social media something to the effect that their loved one is “home now” or, if the loved one was suffering from some illness or disease, is “whole now.”
While I understand the sentiment, I suppose, it’s not a Christian one.
Death is not our hope as Christians. Death is an enemy. Death doesn’t get us “home.” Death doesn’t make us “whole.” Death is a result of the fall. Death is a curse. Death is death.
What Christians have always placed their hope in is not life after death, but life after life after death. Our hope is and always has been in resurrection. Resurrection isn’t what happens when we die. Resurrection is what happens when our bodies are raised from the grave to life again at the second coming of Christ (1 Corin. 15:51-54).
To be sure, the Bible does speak vaguely of being present with Christ after death (2 Cor. 5:8). But whatever that means, it’s a bodiless condition. Paul says that we will be “absent from the body.” After death, my body will be here, in the ground. Or inside a shark, if that’s how I go. But here, nonetheless. In some way I will be with Christ after death, but it won’t be a whole me with Christ. The whole me is body and soul. Part of me will be here. Part there. What I need is resurrection. Then I will be whole again. And then I will be home again.
Which brings us to Easter. The story of Easter is a story of resurrection. In fact, it’s the resurrection story to beat all resurrection stories. There were other people in the Scriptures raised to life after death. But they all later died again. I know that because they’re no longer with us today.
Jesus, however, was resurrected from the dead, never to die again. He broke death. Death thought it was permanent. Jesus proved that wrong. “Death was arrested,” as the song says. And once someone or something is arrested, it’s powerless.
The story of Easter isn’t a story about how Jesus “went home” on Friday. It’s not a story of how Jesus was “whole again” on Saturday. Jesus was dead as dead can be on Friday and Saturday. He wasn’t home, and he wasn’t whole.
Easter is a story about resurrection on Sunday. That’s the hope. That’s when he was whole again.
We today look for the same thing the Christians on Good Friday and Holy Saturday (should have) looked for: resurrection. Then, His; one day, ours. As expressed in the Nicene Creed (A.D. 381), “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
All of this makes Easter incredibly important today.
Because Easter is a story of resurrection, Easter is a reminder that bodies are good – so good that I will have one for eternity. In the early centuries of Christianity, one of the heresies that caught on was known as Gnosticism. The gnostic heresy is the belief that our goal is to escape physical, bodily existence to a higher spiritual plane. Gnosticism views physical, bodily existence as something to be shed. Christians believe physical, bodily existence is something to be resurrected.
Easter is also a reminder that earth is good. This earth used to be good. That’s how it was created. God looked at all that he had created and declared it “good.” Now admittedly, this earth is currently a hot mess. It’s a mess we made, according to the Scriptures. But we are nonetheless people made for earth. We won’t be resurrected into whole and healed bodies again so that we can live on some cloud somewhere in “heaven.” Since the beginning, we have been earthlings. And so it will be forever. Earth is and will forever be our home. Again, we look for the resurrection and the life “of the world to come.” The Apostle Peter said we look for a “new earth” where righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13). The biblical story ends with a “new earth” for us (Rev. 21:1). And as Christ declares at the end, he comes to dwell with us, not us with him (Rev. 21:3). Immanuel: God with us. As my favorite seminary professor put it, in the end, God moves into our neighborhood. To be sure, it’s a re-created earth. And that’s the point. Earth, better than ever, and for eternity. Just like in the beginning, in the end earth is good, so good that it’s our forever house.
Because bodies are good and earth is good, the things that bodies were made to do on earth are also good. In particular, work that subdues the earth is good. Work wasn’t part of the curse. Before the fall of Genesis 3, God commanded men and women alike in Genesis 1 to have dominion over the earth and subdue it. Not abuse it. Unearth all its amazing inherent gifts planted by God for us to discover. What’s fascinating is that the dominion command in Genesis 1 is realized in the very last chapter of the biblical story, where we learn that our eternal state will be one of us reigning forever (Rev. 22:5). Reigning together with Christ, of course, but us participating in that reign. We will for eternity be exercising the good dominion over the new earth – the dominion for which we were created.
Because Easter is a story of resurrection, Easter is also a reminder that everything is getting fixed. If the biggest, surest problem I face — death — is getting fixed one day, then so too is everything else. The greater implies the lesser. All the other problems pale in comparison. They’ll get fixed too when death gets fixed. The Apostle Paul said this 2,000 years ago in slightly different language. “All creation groans,” he said, “waiting eagerly for the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22). In other words, everything is waiting for our bodies to be restored come resurrection because that will be the day all creation too gets restored. Come our resurrection, “the old order of things will pass away” (Rev. 21:4).
“Everything is broken,” Bob Dylan sang. But it won’t be that way forever. The first Easter was, in the words of one of my favorite authors (N.T. Wright), “the day the revolution began.” Easter set in motion a revolution, a revolt against this old order of things, an overthrow of a broken world ruled by death and all its ills. As a result, we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
And that brings me to one final thought about Easter. You might never die. We can only hope. But we can hope for that. The Nicene Creed summarizes what Scripture tells us about Christ’s second coming: “He will come again in glory.” The Apostle Paul tells us that at that coming, when the dead are raised, there will be those who “are still alive” (1 Thess. 4:17). I might be one of them. So might you. But that doesn’t make the resurrection irrelevant to me or you because I, like you, have many loved ones who won’t still be alive. Some have already died. Others likely will. And so Easter reminds us of a resurrection that will reunite us with those departed loved ones. We will see them again. Their departure wasn’t “goodbye,” it turns out, but rather “see you later.”
And so this Easter we can pray, like Christians have for 2,000 years, “Maranatha.” Come, Lord Jesus, come (Rev. 22:20).
N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (New York: HarperOne, 2016).
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: HarperOne, 2008).
Michael E. Wittmer, Heaven is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).