Ask a Theologian: Resurrection
As a member of the Church, I affirm each Sunday my faith that Jesus is risen from the dead. But what does this mean for my own relationship with God?
A way into this question might be to ask yourself how seriously you take Jesus’ death. Do you think of it as a momentary episode in a progression toward glory? Or do you think of it as the real end of his human pilgrimage?
If—as we believe—he is risen, that doesn’t mean that he has simply “come back to life,” that is, to the kind of life he had before. He has gone beyond the kind of life that we know anything about.
Yet it is still he, and he is still in relation to the world of time and change—but in a totally new way. We say that he is victorious, that he “reigns.” He relates to the world in the utter sovereignty and freedom of God.
But what about us who are not yet risen, who are still in the process of living out our own human pilgrimage? What does it mean for us to believe that Jesus is risen? How does this faith affect our own way of believing in God?
The reality that we know anything about first-hand is process, change, becoming, growing and eventually declining, being subject to pain and injury, being subject finally to the loss of life itself.
What is it like, then, for us Christians to believe in God while accepting our transience and impermanence? Can we hope for anything more than what we know here and now in our mortal existence?
To believe that Jesus is risen is to believe that ultimate reality is totally affirming of human existence. The “Alleluia” that we sing expresses our certainty that God is good beyond all expectation. It is right to hope for a destiny that transcends the mortal life that we know.
To believe that Jesus is risen is to believe in “the God … who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Rom 4:17) It is to entrust ourselves ever more completely to this Mystery that creates and re-creates, and that makes justice and truth finally to triumph. We dare to do this, even though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. For death, seemingly all-powerful over all things human, is not the last word about our condition.
This Easter faith empowers us to go through all things without despairing, to expend our energy and time for the good of the human family, even though all is threatened by death, to encounter evil and suffer from it without losing heart, to be joyful in the midst of loss. “…as dying, and see—we are alive; …as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (2 Cor 6:9-10)
This also has an important application to the corporate life of the Church. Our congregations are imperfect and not completely faithful, all too subject to sin and death. If there is life in us, life for the world, it does not come from us. The fruits of the Spirit are signs of the risen life of the Lord as he lives in each of us and in all of us together. By these things people may recognize that we belong to him: “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23)
If the Church’s season of “Eastertide” means more than the reality of spring, it means that we live in a time of victory anticipated because assured. Jesus is the first to be risen, but all those who belong to him will also rise from the dead.
“…Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” (1 Cor 15:20-23)
Our ultimate hope, then, is to be risen with Christ. “... if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his... if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Rom 6:5,8)
The solemn gladness of Easter does not, of course, exempt us from our condition of temporality and mortality. The Lord is risen indeed, but we are not yet risen. We are still “on the way,” living out the days and nights of our pilgrimage.
But when we live in the attitude of Easter faith, we have a hope to share with all other pilgrims. We know a secret that lies at the heart of things, and we have a reason for exultant joy and faithful service.
The Rev. Dr. Wayne L. Fehr wrote a column for a previous version of the diocesan newsletter called Ask a Theologian. He answered questions from ordinary Christians trying to make sense of their faith. You can find and purchase his book on Tracing the Contours of Faith: Christian Theology for Questioners here. Fr. Fehr’s Ask a Theologian column will appear in the Diomil ENews monthly.