An empty tomb, abandoned linen burial wrappings, and the reversal of all that was expected and anticipated—heralds the dawning of a new day. The resurrection of Jesus was the reason, the impetus for a new age—a new way of living and being in the world as residents and heralds of God’s new creation begun. Without this event, there would be no Christian faith and 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 country, and indeed, the world, looking back on the historical significance of the resurrection, and looking forward to the promise of life after death for our eternal future, I wonder if we miss the significance of Easter present—and the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in our lives here and now. If we only associate the resurrection with life after death, something not for this age but for a spiritual age to come, we fail to see the resurrection as anything more than a symbolic promise for another time. But if the only significance of Easter is a spiritual metaphor for new life and re-birth in the future, this message is just as easily told through colored eggs rabbits, and spring flowers.(1) Similarly, if we only celebrate the resurrection as something that happened long ago, we fail to do the creative work of drawing conclusions about what resurrection means for the present day.
God’s raising of Jesus is the sign in history that God had begun the work of new creation—namely, what began in the bodily resurrection of Jesus could now, and would now, continue in the present day. Indeed, Paul tells us 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 him 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 sons, the redemption of our body” (8:19-23). God’s new creation has begun with the bodily resurrection of Jesus. As Paul writes in Colossians, Jesus is thefirst born of all creation. Thus even now our work in this world is the work of resurrection as we walk with Jesus into the consummation of God’s future.
N.T. Wright, who has written extensively on the central importance of Christ’s bodily resurrection for Christians, says it this way: “The resurrection of Jesus means that the present time is shot through with great significance. What is done to the glory of God in the present is genuinely building for God’s future. Acts of justice and mercy, the creation of beauty and the celebration of truth, deeds of love and the creation of communities of kindness and forgiveness—these all matter, and they matter forever. Take away the resurrection, and these things are important for the present but irrelevant for the future and hence not all that important after all even now. Enfolded in this vocation to build now, with gold, silver, and precious stones, the things that will last into God’s new age, is the vocation to holiness: to the fully human life, reflecting the image of God, that is made possible by Jesus’ victory on the cross and that is energized by the Spirit of the risen Jesus present within communities and persons.”(2)
Indeed, in Paul’s great exposition of the resurrection of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 15, he ends by telling the Corinthians, “Therefore, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” ( ). The point of the resurrection, and why it must remain central to our entire Christian experience, is that entropy and death do not have the final word—either for humans or for God’s creation. God’s last word is resurrection.
And God declares it today. This final word gives great hope for our present existence with all its pains and struggles. In light of resurrection, our work, our toil, even our blood, sweat, and tears are far from in vain. For our present work brings the work of God in the past forward, as we live out of the power of the resurrection. Indeed, the historic event of the resurrection coupled with the hope of future resurrection fill our “today” with the fullest of human life.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) Eggs were often used as a sign for the resurrection, the yolk representing new life, hidden within the shell. In addition, rabbits are always associated with fecundity. For additional information see http://www.history.com.
(2) N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 126-127.