There was a lot of death in 2021. Betty White, Larry King, Hank Aaron, Colin Powell, and John Madden all died. A friend my age died of a massive heart attack. Two people in my social circle both died of COVID-19.
Lots and lots of people died of COVID-19.
And now there’s a war in Ukraine. There was a lot of death in 2021. There will be a lot more in 2022.
Death and taxes, they say, are the only sure things. I follow a Twitter account that posts the same thing every day: “You will die someday.” It’s true, and yet the reality we’re all dying makes death no easier when it happens to close friends or elderly parents.
Often when Christians lose a family member, I hear them say their loved one is “home now” or “whole now” if that person was suffering from an illness or disease. While I understand this sentiment, I believe the Bible offers us an even better promise. As Christians, we do not place our hope merely in life after death but rather in life after life after death.
As Christians, we do not place our hope merely in life after death but rather in life after life after death.
Since the first century, Christian hope has been rooted in the resurrection, and resurrection isn’t what happens when we die. It’s what happens when our bodies are raised from the grave at the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 15:51–54).
The Bible does speak of being present with Christ after death (2 Cor. 5:8; cf. Phil. 1:21). The old confessions teach us that like our souls, our bodies too belong to Christ even while they rest in the grave (Heidelberg 1, WSC 37). There is goodness in that, as Scripture tells us. Paul calls it being “at home” with the Lord.
But there’s also something incomplete about our souls in a bodiless condition. Paul says we’ll be “absent from the body” though “present with the Lord” (KJV). After death, my body will be here in the ground, and my soul will be with Christ in some home-like way after death, but it won’t be fully whole. As Paul says just two verses earlier, we are “at home” in our bodies (2 Cor. 5:6). Because the whole me is body and soul, what I need is resurrection. Then I will be whole and completely at home again.
This brings us to the good news of Jesus—the resurrection story to beat all resurrection stories. There were other people in the Bible raised to life after death. But they’re no longer with us today. Jesus, however, was raised never to die again. He broke the permanence of death. The story of Easter isn’t about how Jesus “went home” on Good Friday or was “whole again” on Holy Saturday. No, Easter is the story of Resurrection Sunday. That’s when Jesus was made whole.
Today, Christians look for the same thing the disciples should have looked for that first Holy Week: resurrection—then his, one day our own. As expressed in the Nicene Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Bodily and Earthly Hope
In the early centuries of Christianity, one of the heresies that caught on was Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught that the physical, bodily existence is something to be shed so we can escape to a higher spiritual plane. But Easter is a reminder to us that bodily existence is something originally good that needs resurrecting.
Easter is also a reminder that the earth is good. After creating our world, God looked at all he made and declared it so. Admittedly, this earth is currently a hot mess, and the Bible tells us it’s a mess we made (Gen. 3). But we’re nonetheless people made for earth. We won’t be resurrected into wholly healed bodies again so we can live on a cloud. No, since the beginning, we have been earthlings, and so it will be forever.
Gnosticism views physical, bodily existence as something to be shed. But Easter is a reminder to us that bodily existence is something originally good that needs resurrecting.
Earth is and will forever be our home. Yes, we look for the resurrection and the life “of the world to come”—a “new earth” where righteousness dwells (Rev. 21:1; 2 Pet. 3:13). At the end, Christ will come again to dwell with us, rather than us going to dwell with him (Rev. 21:3). As Glenn Kreider put it, in the end, God moves into our neighborhood. And that’s the point. Christ’s presence makes the new earth—our forever house—better and better for eternity.
Because our bodies and the earth are good, the things bodies were made to do on earth are also good. Work is good. In Genesis 1, God commanded the man and woman to exercise dominion. God wanted people to unearth all the inherent gifts he planted within the world for us to discover.
Because Easter is a story of resurrection, Easter is also an announcement of redemption. If death is defeated, so is everything else. The greater implies the lesser; all other problems pale in comparison. They’ll get fixed too when death gets fixed. As Paul said, “The whole creation has been groaning . . . as we wait eagerly for . . . the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22, 23). Everything waits for our bodies to be restored. “Everything is broken,” Bob Dylan sang. But it won’t be that way forever (Rev. 21:4).
Easter was, to quote N. T. Wright, “the day the revolution began.” Christ’s resurrection set in motion a revolt against the old order of things—an overthrow of a broken world ruled by death and all its ills. Now we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
That brings me to one final thought about Easter: Year after year, for century upon century, there has been a lot of death. But you may never die. We can only hope, but we can certainly hope for that. As the Nicene Creed says, Christ “will come again in glory.” And when he comes and the dead are raised, there will be those who “are still alive” (1 Thess. 4:17, NIV). You and I may be included in that number. If we are, that won’t make the resurrection irrelevant for us, because we have many loved ones who have already died (or who will before that day). For those who remain when Christ comes, the final reminder of Easter is that we’ll be reunited with our loved ones. In life after life after death, we will both be made whole and will be home with Christ and our loved ones again. May that day come soon. “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).