Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Real Meaning of Easter

Most of us are concerned about endings.  We talk often about the importance of closure, trying to make sense of our lives in the mean time.  It's no wonder, then, that eschatology plays such a crucial role in understanding the story of humanity--not only for all people, but especially for each one of us.  I may think about the destiny of humans, where it will end for all of us, but the question becomes more important as I think about my ending.  How much more time do I have left?  When will it end for me?  How will I die?  And, most importantly, what happens after I die?  That's the question that hangs over all of our heads, our clear sense of mortality.  One day it will be all over, then what?  Which is why our notions about life after death sometimes rise to the surface (even though we often try to suppress them), especially after we bury someone we love.  Where are they now?  Is this all there is?  Even for those of us who belong to Christ, sometimes the idea that we will live forever with him in a spiritual place called heaven isn't enough to shout down the pain of sickness and death.

And, it was never supposed to.

For our hope isn't that one day we will "shed our mortal coil"--this earthly prison--and live in heaven with those we love forever.  Rather, the entire NT is witness to this hope:  one day, for those of us who die in Christ, our bodies (as well as all creation) will be raised from the dead.  Sin and death cannot destroy what God has made in his image.  If it did, sin would win.  But God won't let that happen.  The resurrection of Christ (then, now, and in the end) proves it.

But, not all Christians celebrate Easter with that in mind.  Rather, for them, Easter is about celebrating Christ's victory over his death and the threat of hell against us.  Sin and death lost the battle because God raised Christ from the grave, proving that the penalty of sin has been paid for us, which means we get to go to heaven when we die.  That's what Christ did for us.  That's what Easter means to them.  It's not about our hope that one day we too will be raised from the dead.  Rather, for many Christians, Easter is a celebration of our victory in Christ over sin and eternal death (hell)--but not our grave.

To be sure, sin is a horrible enemy--one that we have welcomed into our lives, our world.  Genesis 3 tells the story of when it all began:  how Adam and Eve sinned against God and brought about the curse of death to all creation.  We inherited this mess.  And, even though we "didn't start the fire," we've certainly added gas to the flames.  Therefore, for those who see Easter as our "get out of hell" card, the defeat of sin through the death and resurrection of Christ is truly worth celebrating.  But, to me, that kind of Easter celebration doesn't go back far enough (nor far ahead enough).  Instead, the significance of the Resurrection of Christ goes all the way back to Genesis 1 and all the way ahead to Revelation 21-22.

Christ not only conquered sin and death, he restored us to be what God intended from the beginning:  to bear the very image of God, who is Christ, in life, in death, and--this is crucial--in resurrection.  One day, on the last day, we will reign with Christ over sin, death, and our graves on this resurrected earth.  That's when we truly celebrate Easter, from the first chapter of the Bible all the way to the last.