REFLECTIONS ON RESURRECTION FAITH
What Happened to the Other Guy?
He Qi is one of the most popular modern painters of religious themes. Here a triumphant angel announces that Christ has risen, conquering the demons of darkness who now flee from him. The women have not yet woken properly, and seem unaware of what has happened. They still mourn, but the angel is telling them that the time for grief is over. Instead of the unfurled military-style banner often held by Christ in earlier paintings, He Qi’s angel carries a luminous lily, sign of purity and peace.
Jesus was crucified, according to Luke, along with two others.
One of these men mocked Jesus. “If you’re the messiah, save yourself and us!”
The other defended him: “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Jesus turned to him and said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
The modern imagination conjures up all kinds of scenarios about what this means. One of these scenarios is that they both went to heaven when they died. The two crucified men ended up together in Paradise, then, now, and forever, amen.
But then we turn the chapter in Luke’s gospel and find that on the third day after Jesus’ death, Jesus appears to two men who are walking towards a small town called Emmaus.
Of course, we’re so startled by the appearance of Jesus that we forget the other guy. You know, the guy Jesus took to paradise with him. Shouldn’t he be happily tagging along behind Jesus?
Something happened to Jesus that did not happen to the other victim of crucifixion. Jesus experienced resurrection.
Sure, the other guy may have been experiencing life after death, something we know little to nothing about. But Jesus had gone another step further. Jesus was experiencing, in the words of NT Wright, life after life after death. To be more specific, Jesus was experiencing resurrection life (a fully embodied and physical life) after the life (about which we know little to nothing) that comes after death.
This is so important as we approach Easter Sunday– the one Sunday a year in which we remember the reason we gather all those other Sundays.
We don’t gather because Jesus’ spirit goes on. (Insert Titanic musical theme here).
We don’t gather because Jesus went to heaven (or paradise) when he died.
We gather because we ride the wake of the most surprising event in the history of our species: a resurrection, a physical, fully-embodied, historical defeat of death that anticipates the resurrection of all.
It isn’t that Jesus is alive after death.
That’s not resurrection.
That’s not the gospel.
It’s that he defeated death and was bodily raised.
He’s not “alive” where he’s supposed to be… that is, in heaven or paradise or anywhere where the dead are suppose to go.
He’s back. Not his spirt. Not his ghost. Him.
That’s the news.
That means the powers that rule this world are in danger because their
ultimate weapon, death, is defeated. Resurrection faith does not claim the next world but concedes this one. Resurrection faith believes that the powers of evil in this world can be opposed. Why? Because the resurrection of Jesus means that they don’t get to keep this world.
This “religion” is not an opiate for believers. It is a mortal blow to the powers.
The resurrection means that this world has been taken from the hands of the powers of darkness – demonic, governmental, economic, religious, societal or otherwise. We are now traveling towards a future in which the meek inherit everything.
Yes, the future. That’s where the resurrected Jesus comes from. He comes to us from the future, God’s future. God’s future is not made up of disembodied spirits or souls living in heaven, but of an integrated new creation, a new heavens and new Earth become one.
So back to Luke’s story.
The other guy from Luke’s story, the one who was promised paradise?
He was not tagging along with Jesus on the road to Emmaus because he was not yet raised.
At best, he only had life after death. Meh.
He awaits his resurrection, as do we all.
He’s in the parenthesis, in the midst of transition, as are we all who are in Christ.
He is, as are we who believe, in heaven.
But, Jesus is raised to Life from life after death by the power of God.
What do you think?
Author, Makers of Fire: the spirituality of leading from the future
I write a lot about the future. As we approach Easter 2015, I wanted to write about the past, specifically the resurrection of Jesus and a few other directly related topics. As always these reflections may be slanted towards the future. After all, that’s where the resurrected Christ comes from.