Margaret Manning evaluates the true significance of the resurrection.
All of Christian history turns on this one event. An empty tomb, abandoned burial wrappings and startled eyewitnesses heralded the reversal of all that was expected. A new day dawned and presented the reason, the impetus for the entire Christian movement. On its significance, the apostle Paul was clear: “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).
As Christians emerge from worship services around the world having looked back on the historical significance of the resurrection, and now looking forward to the promise of life after death for an eternal future, I wonder if there is a tendency to miss the significance of Easter present. Does anyone wonder what difference the resurrection of Jesus makes in lives here and now? For if the resurrection is only about life after death—going to heaven when we die—or if Christians are only celebrating something that happened long ago, there is the failure to do the necessary and creative work of what resurrection means for lives today. In addition, if the only significance of Easter is a spiritual metaphor for new life and re-birth, this message is just as easily told through colored eggs and rabbits.
For Christians to affirm the bodily resurrection of Jesus means, at the very least, that God had begun the work of new creation—what began in the bodily resurrection of Jesus—could now, and would now continue into the present time and place. Indeed, Paul writes in Romans 8 that “the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the children of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of the One who subjected it in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as children, the redemption of our body” (8:19-23). God’s new creation has begun with the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Now, our work in this world is the work of resurrection—bringing new life and re-creation as followers of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are entrusted with the task of raising dead people to life, helping the lost to find home, and healing those who are wounded and broken.
The risen Jesus told his followers, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). Jesus’ resurrection is not an evacuation strategy from this life nor is it the promise of a life free from trouble. Rather it commissions those who would remember his resurrection to be his ‘raising’ agents in the world. Jesus sends out his followers with the extraordinary news that the dead can be raised to new life for death and evil do not have the last word! And as we begin to live in light of the resurrection, we can gain insight into its significance for the practical realities of everyday lives even as we anticipate the world to come, of which the resurrection is a sign. As N.T. Wright has concluded: “Jesus is raised, so he is the Messiah, and therefore he is the world’s true Lord; Jesus is raised, so God’s new creation has begun… Jesus is raised, so we must act as his heralds, announcing his lordship to the entire world, making his kingdom come on earth as in heaven.”(1)
Christians remember the Risen Lord and hope for a future of resurrected life. But in between the past remembrance and the future reality, everything has changed!
(1) N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (New York: Harper Collins, 2008), 56.