Easter and Christian Hope
Lately, and especially since I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s newest release, Surprised by Hope, I’ve grown increasingly distressed over how Easter services are carried out. I’m addressing this now because Easter is just a few days away, but I also refer to how the Christian hope is expressed in nearly any worship service in the western, and especially evangelical, Church.
It’s extremely commonplace to hear and read in hymns and praise songs references to “peace” and going to be where Jesus is. The hymn Jesus Keep me Near the Cross speaks of “peace beyond the river.” Now, of course, this is all well and good. As Christians, we do have a blessed assurance that when we die we don’t enter a limbo-like existence, but instead are ushered directly into the presence of God. But, as so often is the case, our hymns and spiritual songs don’t go the next, and crucially necessary, step.
The message of Easter is much bigger than my “going to heaven when I die.” It isn’t simply about life after death. It is, in fact, about what Wright calls “life after life after death.” It’s about me and my sin, and God’s forgiveness in Christ, yes. It’s no less than that, but it’s certainly more. What God the Father did for Jesus on Easter morning, He plans to do for all of us one day that are united to Jesus. Jesus is what the Bible calls the firstfruits of the resurrection. Just as Christ’s literal, physical body was placed in the tomb and raised, so too will our bodies be raised to new life. But He not only promises to do this for those for whom the Son came, but for all of creation (cf. Rom. 8).
The ultimate reason for Christ’s life and death is to take back creation from it’s subjugation to sickness, suffering, sin, and Satan. What was lost in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3) will be restored through Christ. This restoration touches everything; we’re talking about a new world-God’s world- a renewed people, and a renewed heavens and earth that are united forevermore.
We need to stress these things in our services as the ultimate Christian hope, the fulfillment of God’s original design for His universe. This hope speaks of a world where shalom reigns, the earth is “set to rights,” and King Jesus is enthroned as the victorious Lion-Lamb who has crushed the power of evil. [For more on the exciting ways in which the Bible describes what happened in Christ’s passion and resurrection see my Resurrection and the Logic of New Creation]
Happy Resurrection day!
Update: I was recently asked if I thought our worship songs reflected bad theology or simply the individualism of our culture (salvation is about my peace, my “not going to hell,” etc). And as I thought of this, I would say yes and no, but more on the no side. You see, all Christian churches believe in the resurrection. All denominations believe, at least they say they believe, in life after life after death. I know that I’ve never met a Christian who denies this. Our individualism is a problem, but I think it’s the greater problem is the subtle influence within the church of Platonism and gnosticism.
You would think from hearing so many of our songs that Christians believe that the world, that physical reality is bad, and our hope is to escape it. But this is sheer gnosticism. Resurrection isn’t a fancy redescription of disembodied life in heaven. We’re coming back! The Bible teaches that the world was created good, and God called it so. What we sing often will alert people of what we really believe more than a sermon will. If we say we believe in a new heavens and a new earth where we will dwell with glorified, resurrected bodies, yet express our deepest devotion in song, and completely leave this out, what are we really saying?