“Serious Christianity begins when Jesus comes out of the tomb on Easter morning,” – N.T. Wright (borrowed from Near Emmaus’ post)
Since Holy Week has arrived, I’ve begun reading through the Gospel of Mark. I chose this gospel specifically because it contains a narrative structure which emphasizes the miraculous act of Jesus rising from the grave. Why do I think this? Because the original copy of Mark’s gospel ended with Mary Magdalene and Mary (Jesus’ mother?) encountering an angel at Jesus’ empty tomb and running away scared. No Great Commission. Just an empty tomb and an angel.
N.T. Wright hits it dead on the money: Christianity begins at the resurrection. Why? Because, in the ancient context, it was bizarre. It was an unbelievable story, but yet enough people believed back then that it thrives today – they even died because they believed this story. Mark’s ending to Jesus’ narrative causes the reader to wake up, go back to the beginning of the Gospel, and reread the entire story. The culmination of Jesus’ life wasn’t the cross; it was the empty tomb.
His empty tomb meant He wasn’t just another prisoner being publicly executed. Well then why was He executed? And thus the inquiring mind begins to seek out the truth around Jesus all because the story of the resurrection was told to them.
And yet we like to dwell on the cross as the center of Christianity. No doubt, it reveals quite a great deal about God, His love for humanity, and so on. But any experienced Christian will tell you that they didn’t become a Christian because they heard about Jesus’ death; they became a Christian because He rose from that death. Easter is not only about celebrating the remission of our sins – although that is a great thing to rejoice over. It’s about celebrating our King’s defeat of death. Or to put it even shorter: It’s about celebrating our King.
What exactly does it mean, though, to celebrate our King for His resurrection that Easter morning? Why is that a big deal? N.T. Wright writes in another of his works that Christ’s resurrected body is an allusion to our own future selves. What he means is, Jesus’ resurrection from the grave is foreshadowing our own transition into the completed life. No, I’m not talking about us rising from our bodies as pure spirits into heaven; I’m talking about our bodies being intertwined with our souls in such a way that, as John’s Gospel depicts, our spiritual and physical forms are one in the same. We will be completely and perfectly renewed.
It means our focus in this world isn’t about the things in this world: fame, money, possessions, or even the more desirable things like marriage, raising children, etc. Our focus in this life is beyond all those things, which in a strange way makes having those things all the more enjoyable. You’ll enjoy your friends more when you know and realize they aren’t what your life depends upon. Likewise, you’ll enjoy your marriage more when you know you can be content without it.
If our purpose in this world isn’t about the things within this world, then why do anything at all about anything? Why should I care about a world that God will simply resurrect and renew anyway? Well, for starters, because Jesus means to reign in this world, not just in some distant heavenly realm. Our bodies, our lives, and everything we do in this world matters. It all matters because it’s all a part of ushering in God’s kingdom. If Jesus says we will reap what we sow, then if we sow a bad seed by not taking care of our bodies, not working to care for our neighbors, not taking care of the environment (yeah, God cares for His creation, too), then in all likelihood we may not reap anything good from it.
My focus this week – what I aim to meditate and pray over – is the empty tomb and its meaning. I want to get a glimpse of what my purpose in the next world might be so that I can get started in this one. Jesus was beaten beyond recognition for ushering in God’s kingdom. There is a very serious message for those of us who believe Him to be a foreshadowing example for us to follow: We could be brutally murdered for believing all of this. But even with this serious warning there is a serious promise: There is life after it. And not just any life: life with the Author and Source of Life.
Death will reach everyone one of us, like it or not. What the empty tomb reveals about those who profess Jesus as Lord, God, and Savior, though, is that death does not have to be the end. It can merely be the transition from one life to the next. We must choose.
I’m sorry if I appear to be rambling; it is nearly one in the morning and I’m drained of energy. But I hope I’ve made my point clear: The Resurrection – the literal rising of Jesus’ dead and mutilated body into a renewed and perfected body – is a very serious matter to Christianity. It’s what caused a stir about Jesus, which caused many to reflect over His teachings and write them down. It’s what caused many to believe – even to their deaths – that Jesus was God’s Son. And it’s what has kept Christianity alive to today.
As the week rolls on, take some time to think/meditate over the resurrection’s meaning. And not just the “covered my sins” part, but also what’s beyond life in this world. Is living with God really going to be us just sitting around on clouds doing random little things or is it going to be something like a completely new adventure? Is God really going to cast our bodies aside and leave them beyond or is He going to bring them out of the grave, too? By what we have to go off of, I’d say it’s going to be a totally new kind of life with totally new kinds of bodies.
What does the resurrection mean to you?