Stepping into the huge sanctuary, I saw beyond the crowd to the stage, draped in vines and flowers as if a garden. Then, eyes wide with wonder, I saw it – the empty tomb.
Soon Easter songs echoed around me with praises and truths about “Christ risen,” and my heart absorbed every note, every emotion. But the words preached reminded me that the very first Easter morning held no hallelujahs. The disciples still grieved, still struggled with what felt like dashed hope. And, the women headed to the tomb to finish the burial rituals they had barely begun on Friday.
When they saw the empty tomb, it didn’t fill them with awe as it had me – because they didn’t yet grasp its meaning. But the minute Mary heard Jesus say her name, she knew. HE LIVES!
All these 2000+ years later, we celebrate the empty tomb – not from a place of fear or confusion but faith because Christ’s resurrection is everything. Friday’s death was the ultimate sacrifice and atonement, but without Sunday’s resurrection, the cross would’ve been forgotten, Jesus’ story lost forever.
Without the resurrection, there’s no Church, no preaching, no faith (1 Corinthians 15:14). There’s no forgiveness of sins nor any life beyond death (v.17-18). There’s no hope, not in the now nor for eternity (v.19).
But, praise the Lord, we’ve been given a “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). A living hope because Jesus lives! A living hope because Christ lives in us. And this hope, it’s powered by Christ’s resurrection.
Something about all the new life that bursts forth each spring has me anticipating this particular season more than any other every year. Winter is hard. It’s darker and colder. It’s brown and lifeless. So when I first spy the green sprouts on trees and the flowers in the fields, my heart soars. For me, spring is a living hope, the tangible evidence of what Jesus’ death and resurrection promise – new life.
The imagery of a thriving, fruitful tree in the summer shedding its leaves in the fall and looking dead throughout winter should bring to mind Jesus’ own life and death. And just when we’re tempted to believe the tree will no longer live, green buds pop out in the spring. New life!
The symbolism of our own baptism embodies the same meaning. As we go under the water, we die to our old selves, to our sin. And as we rise out of the water, washed clean, we are new creatures in Christ (Romans 6:4). New life!
This is resurrection life. It is life made new in Christ. It is life full of power and hope.
Jesus described Himself as the Resurrection and Life (John 11:25). At the time He used this moniker, His friend Lazarus lay dead in a tomb and Lazarus’ sisters were upset that Jesus delayed His arrival. They trusted in His healing power. They even believed in the resurrection to come on the final day (vv. 21-24). But they were about to be introduced to resurrection power in the here and now. The “I Am the Resurrection and Life” spoke a word, and life stepped out of the tomb (vv. 43-44).
Literally, Lazarus was given new life. And when we put our faith in Jesus, we also have new life – yes, for eternity but also for our days on earth – because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is in us (Romans 8:11). In other words, that power, that Spirit, they give us all we need to live and hope each day. New life!
Surprised by Hope
NT Wright, one of the most brilliant Christian minds of our day, has written a book entitled Surprised by Hope. So, of course, I had to have it. And, I was certainly surprised!
I’m not sure what I expected, but I wasn’t thinking it would be a book about resurrection. Yet, that’s exactly what NT Wright focuses on. I’m beginning to understand why – because if we, as followers of Jesus, don’t have a full and correct understanding of resurrection, we fail to have the full hope of Christ:
- If we don’t live a faith rooted in the Word, we’ll confuse “death defeated” for “death redescribed,” where we merge many of the world’s ideas of afterlife – like total annihilation or reincarnation or ghosts – with that of God’s New Heaven and New Earth (chapter 2 of SBH).
- If we don’t live out the truth of the resurrection of the dead, our faith becomes an amalgamation of the Platos and Dantes, of Hollywood and postmodernism.
- If we don’t make Jesus’ resurrection the center of all we are, we live by a distorted truth, believing all roads lead to heaven or thinking that heaven is the ultimate destination.1
Rather, we need to lean deeply into Scripture, as well as Church tradition. Our creeds have it right. But do we truly believe that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried? That He was resurrected and ascended to heaven in order to one day judge all who live and all who have died? That our bodies will be resurrected and live forever?2
Or do we worry that heaven will be boring? Or assume that we’ll become angels in heaven? Or think that God is a narcissist who just wants to be adored for all eternity? Or believe that there’s a second chance waiting in some version of a purgatory where we learn to get it right?
Neither Scripture nor tradition support any of these. Rather, truth looks like what Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43) – in other words, at death our spirits depart earth and join Jesus in heaven. But that’s not the end.
Because truth also looks like what Jesus taught us to pray – that God’s kingdom will come, that His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). In the person of Christ, God’s kingdom has been ushered into the world so that God’s will can be made known and carried out. And, after Christ’s return, bodies will be raised from the dead to live on the New Heaven and Earth (1 Thessalonians 4:16; 1 Corinthians 15:42-44,52).
I love how NT Wright describes heaven and the future of its transformation (along with earth’s) – that is, think of heaven in its current state as another dimension that coexists alongside ours. Then on the Last Day, the two dimensions merge. Our bodies raised, the New Heaven and New Earth exist as one beautiful place of perfection and Presence (Revelation 21:1-7).
So, when we embrace the truth of what heaven, death, and resurrection are, we begin to grasp why Christian hope is one for the future AND the present. Friends, we have hope that things in our lives can change because the ultimate Christian hope is a person – One who lived, died, and defeated death by His resurrection. Our hope has already come to life in Jesus! And through Him, we can live in hope for the here and now, as well as for our future life with Him.
This truth about Easter – about resurrection’s power and life – lays the foundation for all that is to come in this series. Just as we look for life in the once-dead-looking trees, we can search for Christ in all our sufferings. We can put all our trust in His promises. And we can hang-on to this uniquely Christian hope.
This hope is anchored in the person of Christ. This hope promises God’s presence, protection, provision. This hope flows from the blood shed on the cross. This hope rises like our Savior from the grave, resurrecting life when everything around us and in us is death. This hope puts all bets on the future when Jesus returns and the resurrected believers join Him in the New Heaven and New Earth.
So, let’s step out of the tombs that hold us in death and claim Christ’s resurrection life. Let’s choose to believe in this hope we’ve been given.
Heavenly Father, You are all wisdom. You know all things about all people over all time, and we can only know what You reveal to us. So, we ask for your help as we dig a little deeper into what it means to have a living hope, to live a resurrection life. We know that it’s by your power that You raised Jesus to life, and we’re so grateful that You will raise us to life, as well – both now and for eternity. Lord Jesus, You are our hope in life and death. In You, life springs eternal! We pray that as we stretch our minds to grasp what your resurrection means, we would truly find rest in knowing that YOU LIVE! May we trust that in You our hope is secure. Holy Spirit, the very power You used to raise Jesus to life is IN US, which means we live in the hope of that power, and we trust that it is in us and for us. We believe in the truths of Scripture and join in the tradition of the Church across the millenia. We believe in You, Holy Spirit. We believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
(Inspired by Proverbs 2:6; Matthew 11:27; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 Corinthians 6:14; “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death” by Keith and Kristyn Getty; Romans 1:4; the Apostle’s Creed2)
Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
- 1 – The current assumption of many Christians, “heaven is the ultimate destination,” is one that NT Wright says is a product of a popular picture of what happens after death and that it is based on a misunderstanding of some chapters in Revelation. First, he explains that the scene with the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4 and 5 is not a picture of the Last Day but one of a present reality. He says, “Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life.” He then describes heaven as God’s dimension that runs parallel to ours, and at the last day the two are merged – as seen in Revelation 21 and 22 (the New Heaven and the New Earth). These are lofty yet deep ideas. I have reread chapters 1 and 2 of Surprised by Hope many times, and I’m still wrapping my brain around them. I do believe that NT Wright is challenging some “popular” ideas about end times with some strong arguments that find their roots in Scripture and Church tradition. I do not present myself as an expert on any of this at all. But I find myself nodding my head at what NT Wright points out about our current Christian culture and how much of our “beliefs” are actually merged with the world’s ideas. I hoped to use NT Wright’s teachings as a springboard for us in order to clarify our understanding of resurrection SO THAT we’ll be able to better live from a faith that is rooted in and powered by Christ’s resurrection. And from that, we’ll better live with THIS HOPE.
- I invite you to sink your teeth into NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope^ book — then let me know what you think. True confessions…I haven’t made it past the first two chapters because I keep rereading them. LOL
- 2 – The Apostle’s Creed: https://www.churchofengland.org/our-faith/what-we-believe/apostles-creed
- In our new “This Hope” playlist, I’ve tried to capture with songs many of the truths described in this post — truths that will become themes woven throughout our spring series: resurrection power, hope in suffering, hope in God’s promises. The opening song, “We’ve Got This Hope,” by Ellie Holcomb absolutely nails our themes, and I can’t stop listening to it!
Rhythms we can incorporate into our daily lives to aid us in our dwelling with God, living for Him, and putting our hope in Him:
- In our journey to become more Christ-like, to deepen our knowing of Him and strengthen our faith in Him, we incorporate rhythms in our lives — not to box us into legalistic have-to’s but to develop within ourselves a delight in being with Him. This spring, I’d love for us to lean into the rhythm of meditation. Unlike eastern meditation that seeks to empty the mind and self of everything, Christian meditation desires to fill our minds and beings with Christ. SO — each day, to the best of our abilities, let’s meditate on God’s Word. Each week I’ll suggest a chapter or passage of Scripture that we can settle into, or as my friend JD Walt says, “ruminate on the Word just as a cow ruminates on his cud.” In other words, don’t rush. Read. Pause. Listen. Reread. Pause. Receive. Give space for the Spirit to reveal and enlighten.
- This week, we can meditate (or ruminate) on 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a long chapter in which Paul addresses a “popular” idea that there is no resurrection of the dead, so it’s full of resurrection language and teaching. If it’s overwhelming to meditate on the entire chapter, focus on the section containing verses 12-23. Read less for information and more for inspiration. And if the Spirit leads you to pause on one verse, stay there! Freedom in the Spirit!!
- Finally, as a community, let us not neglect sharing God’s hope with others! Share your God-stories with people around you. Share this site. Share God’s Word. Shine His light into the world!