There is perhaps no story Christians know better than the story of the Resurrection. It defines and energizes our faith in mysterious, real, and profound ways. Our entire faith hinges on the empty tomb. The Apostle Paul indicates as much when he writes this in his letter to the Church of Corinth:
“12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. 17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. 19 If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
1 Corinthians 15:12-19 NRSV
For something that is so well-known among us, there still remains a great deal of unknown and an area of things yet to be learned. After all, in my experience, every time I contemplate and reflect on the Resurrection, I am drawn to different things. We all are. This holy mystery that we proclaim in our sermons, our hymns, and our creeds continues to reveal itself to us in new and intriguing ways.
More than anything, we search for hope in the Resurrection and the assurance of God’s promise and the faith and confirmation that Christ is far more than just a human being who taught human beings how to function with one another in peaceful rebuke of sin and hatred in the world that surrounded them and surrounds us.
To get to that hope, we must first put the resurrection in a context for what it is. In order to do that, we must start with the death and burial of Jesus. There is a song I enjoy by the band My Epic called “Lower Still”. It perfectly captures the life and sacrifice of Jesus in a short time frame with vivid imagery and poetry. The portion of the lyrics I want to focus on is where they discuss the Resurrection:
“Hang Him like meat on a criminal’s tree. Lower still, lower still.
Bury His corpse in the Earth like a seed, like a seed, like a seed. Lower still, lower still.
The Earth explodes, she cannot hold him!
And all therein is placed beneath Him.
And death itself no longer reigns. It cannot keep the ones he gave himself to save.
And as the universe shatters the darkness dissolves.
He alone will be honored. We will bathe in his splendor.
As all heads bow lower still. All heads bow lower still.”
If we think of the burial of Christ as the planting of a seed, we come away with a bigger picture of what harvest imagery in the New Testament points to on a level we have never considered before. Namely, the planting of the seed for new life.
The imagery of the earth’s explosion in this song carries the harvest narrative even further. Jesus was put into a tomb and a stone was rolled over the entrance. By all accounts, Jesus was dead. He was planted in the tomb and left to rot and decompose.
This same earth that God created had become overrun by evil and sin. This sin had overcome society as they demanded the death of Jesus and gleefully hung Him on the Cross, pierced His side, and found joy in the death of this man who had become an agitator to the established hatred and paranoia of His time. (There were exceptions such as Mary and John).
They did what we all do when a body dies. They buried it. Seemingly, death had claimed yet another life and the evil that had gripped society and the world delivered its brand of injustice to yet another innocent life. And yet, this time, things changed.
This time, they buried the true Messiah. The humble servant. The Prince of Peace. The Son of God. And the whole earth “exploded” as it tried to contain Jesus and confine Him to death. Reality was shattered, the veil was torn, evil and sin met their match, and death itself was dethroned.
A new view on life emerged. The finite understanding of life was halted and replaced with eternal life and the coming resurrection of the dead. The old earth that was under the grip of evil was cut from the tree of life and thrown into the Refiner’s Fire to produce a new earth with an approaching Kingdom.
The powerlessness of evil and sin became immediately evident when the women discovered the empty tomb and Christ went on to reappear to His Disciples. Death, the ruler of evil, had its kingdom destroyed without a single brick left standing.
This is a very poetic way of understanding the Resurrection. Poetry is essential to our understanding of the Resurrection because of its abstractness. People do still die. We have all lost people who are close to us. However, the promise of the Resurrection assures us that the tears we cry over death will be wiped away as John writes in Revelation 21:4: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Things are different because of Jesus. Death goes from being a road block to being a bridge into eternity.
In further drawing out the concept of hope within the Resurrection, we must consider the ministry of Christ in its totality. It is not simply enough to focus on the final week of His life, there were years of ministry before Christ rode into Jerusalem and suffered on the Cross.
In this ministry, we find a man who embodied the human experience. He wept over the loss of life, agonized over His impending calling, flipped tables in rage, and delivered stern verdicts of forgiveness and grace in situations most would find it difficult to even consider. It is safe to say that Jesus experienced all that we can and will experience in life: the good times, the bad times, acceptance, rejection, healing, and pain.
All of this leads to the final part of the human experience: death. And lest we minimize it, Jesus took the embodiment of the human experience as far as we knew it to be and died the human death.
What this means first and foremost is that there is nowhere we can go, nothing we can go through, and no place we can find ourselves in that Christ has not been. That’s the first image of hope in the Resurrection. We have the example and companionship of Jesus with us for the entirety of our human experience both here and in eternity with the promise of “I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
I think back to two years ago when I was contemplating my call into the ministry. My wife had been laid off from a job and had been unemployed for a year and we were living with her parents. Once I gained confidence in my call, my wife and I decided to move to Harrisonburg to attend Eastern Mennonite Seminary on a leap of faith with just a small buffer of funds her parents and our home church gave us. To get to that point, Christ journeyed with my wife and was consoling her during a time of uncertainty and agony in her life to where she got the strength to move with me. For me, Christ journeyed with me in my confusions and discernment. He listened as I yelled and pleaded and sought answers to the issues we were already facing. “How could God call a couple that has nothing?” I would ask myself and others. The answer is that Jesus knew what it was like to have nothing and He stepped out in faith in His ministry and we were being called to do the same.
The barrenness in our lives died in the tomb and stronger faith came out in our resurrection.
Hope is also found in the power reversal between God and evil. It’s not that evil was stronger than God, it’s that human beings had succumbed to it time and time again because they lacked the means to encounter it and push it back. The Resurrection was a gateway for the Holy Spirit to enter the world and empower the followers of Jesus against the forms of evil in the world.
And we know what these wrongs are. Racism, wealth inequality, wage inequality, gender inequality, war, violence, and the list goes on. The Spirit enters into our societies and into our hearts and empowers us to take on the evil in our midst. The hope, then, becomes the acknowledgment that evil and sin are fighting futile battles and waging useless wars in our midst because they cannot begin to breathe in the presence of the Spirit, the Son, and God.
For me, there are still a few things I sit in the tomb with waiting for resurrection. Chief among these things is the desire to let go of the anger I hold over the frustration of being abused by my parents. Forgiveness has been one thing, and that certainly occurs many times through each day. However, I have learned that the anger can still linger. It isn’t the sort of anger that causes violence, rather, it is the anger that results from what I endured and the attempts of my parents to justify it. I vaguely hear the calls of Jesus from the other side of the tomb telling me to let it go and walk out, but its quite difficult. To walk out requires a deeper faith that the evil perpetuated against me is being attended to by the Spirit. I have been very vocal about my experiences and come a long way theologically, but I await a time when I fully let go of my comfort in anger and frustration and trust the Spirit to empower me to walk away from that tomb.
Finally, hope is seen in our individual lives. The Resurrection has to power to energize us when our lives seem buried in the complexities and pitfalls of life. It has the power to bring us into new understandings about life, Jesus, and God. It has the power to take walks that have become dry, dull, and barren and turn them into flourishing sprints on the way to the Kingdom.
We can hardly begin to adequately comprehend or articulate this reality. The Resurrection is not a one and done event for our lives. It is a one-time event in the sense that it happened once in history, but if we limit the Resurrection to one event in history, we cheapen the majesty and power of it.
We are called to be a remade people who are conformed to the image of Christ. That means there are constantly things that we are being called to die to in our lives in order to further enter into the new life promised. We go into the tomb like Jesus with wounds from evil and emerge with healed scars to minister from. And we do this time and time again.
Recently, I became aware of how impactful language can be in theological discussions. This has become all the more compounded by the political season our country finds itself in. I had to die to using language of rash categorization and demeaning ideals. This is indeed an ongoing work for me. It seems quite tempting for me and others to refer to those who disagree with us theologically as intellectually inferior or “bad” as opposed to brothers and sisters. What is being resurrected from this is a more appealing theological framework. The recognition that we are all side by side looking in the same dim mirror getting an incomplete picture as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 which is all about practicing love above and beyond our theological stances and ministries.
All of this is hardly a final word. If you were to ask me next year, next month, next week, tomorrow, or an hour from now what hope is found in the Resurrection, the answer will change. But that’s the point! We are constantly experiencing Christ in new and profoundly unique ways. We are ever coming away from the Resurrection story with a new nuance and understanding. That’s by design.
The Resurrection is as vast and mysterious as God’s self. To be able to give a final word on the topic would put a stranglehold on the eternal narrative of Reconciliation. Therefore, reflect on where you find hope in the Resurrection today, but don’t stop there. Be ready and open to having that awareness added to or changed in the midst of your life. Ask others. Be open to their experiences of hope.
Find your hope in the awe of vaguely describing the indescribable.