It’s the morning after Easter Sunday for preachers and I’m in my office because I read my calendar wrong. 😦 Might as well get some work done.
Lots of “he is risen” yesterday, all well meant but part of me wants to say “so what?!” I don’t ask that irreverently, it is also well meant. All of the Christian life should flow out of that “so what” but we’re bad at it.
NT Wright’s magisterial work “The Resurrection of the Son of God” essentially makes the argument that the only reasonable accounting for the shape of the development of early Christianity could have been something as shocking and paradigm changing as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. How else would fervently monotheistic Jews (their monotheism burned into them by hundreds of years of exile and occupation and reinforced by the heavy handed teachers of the law who would have a part in demanding Jesus’ execution) begin to do the audacious thing of worshiping this Jesus of Nazareth. (Here is a article length summary of his argument.)
Paul of Tarsus in his letters clearly bases his radical notions of new life based on the resurrection. The resurrection simultaneously undercuts all legalisms and utilitarian “making-life-work” strategies. In the light of the resurrection these old ways are now atrophying body parts that should be amputated. (See a rough, amplified, noted translation of Colossians 3:5-17 for a Bible Study.) The recklessness with which Paul seemed to live his life seems to be based on this.
Jesus’ teachings too seem to bear an almost suicidal trajectory. I remember a Jon Stewart quip once about Jesus’ treaching, “have they ever read this guy?” meaning that actually doing the kinds of things he suggests are neither for the ordinary or the timid. Last week the Sacramento Bee thought a house group in the Bay Area to be noteworthy because they try to apply Jesus’ teachings without the institutional accouterments.
Jesus’ teachings are in fact enormously radical and if followed and are designed to lead explicitly to the kind of outcome he experienced: cross and resurrection. They include such things as loving enemies, turning cheeks, giving away possessions, and a host of other behaviors that are clearly antithetical to the kind of prosperity and pleasure it is naturally human to value. My best attempt to try to translate all of this is my working through the concepts of the age of decay and the age to come, the relational polarity of the age of decay (my wellbeing at your expense) and the relational polarity of the age to come (your wellbeing at my expense) or, as CS Lewis calls it “the life of God”.
It’s obviously far easier to put words on than to actually live it. We are culturally and biologically disposed to self-preservation and self-indulgence. It seems to me the only real way to live any of this is to have an enormously vibrant sense of the reality of the resurrection. This in fact is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17-23.
In attempting to convey this in my ministry I have been trying to flesh out “he is risen” in broader more applicable terms. My Easter sermon was yet another whack at it. As I’m in the home stretch in my Revelation Adult Sunday School class I’ve been able to talk about it in the context of the last chapters of the book of Revelation. What I’m learning is #1, I’m not much good at it and #2, we haven’t developed a sufficient conversation for it within the Christian community. We haven’t yet received all that Paul asked for in that Ephesians prayer.
Part of the difficulty we have is all of the slopping language floating around about “heaven”. Our notions are insufficiently grounded in the notion of seeing it as the fulfillment of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28. We are designed for culture making and our redemption is not merely for an escape from pain and frustration but is in fact designed for culture-making in the age to come. I believe if we can begin to lean into this it can breath some life into our desire for the age to come. I find in many people a very poor sense of excitement for the promises of God based on a practical theology that is overly gnostic and prudish. Our enjoyment of all of God’s good gifts in the age to come (the other side of the resurrection) will far outstrip our enjoyment of them today. Engineers will love that engineering far more than they do now. The same is true for musicians, chefs, artists, organizers, economists, writers, athletes, biologists, physicists, administrators, farmers, etc.
We naturally struggle with frame of reference issues in imagining the age to come. That’s OK. Our frame of reference should in fact not be clouds but rather soil, not ethereal floating but running, grasping, tasting, seeing. CS Lewis’ “The Last Battle” and “The Great Divorce” are helpful texts in feeding this imagination.
The primary reference is of course the only sample we have of the actual stuff of Creation 2.0 is the resurrected body of Jesus itself. NT Wright makes the comment about the sitings that the witnesses seem to struggle to capture it. He’s recognized by his scars but he’s been transformed in a way that they can’t quite comprehend. Matthew 28:17 is so refreshingly honest: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
I would like to see us do some more imagining of the age to come. Maybe along side “he is risen” we should say “and I am too”. That will both highlight how unrisen we act, think and live, but maybe it will connect us a bit which is of course exactly what Paul does. We have been buried with him in our baptism, we have been raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raise him from the dead. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God. (Col 2:12, 3:3)