When I was interviewing with the Board of Ordained Ministry to be commissioned as an elder, one member of the committee asked me about the resurrection of Jesus. She asked, “How do you see resurrections in your own life?” I’ve long reflected on that question because the way in which we answer it has implications for the way in which we think about everything from Christian ethics to soteriology to eschatology (none of which can be separated from one another). In particular, what is most significant in a question like this one is what we mean by “resurrection.” If we simply understand the resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor for hopeful things that happen in this life, that is one thing. If we mean to convey, however, that the same power that raised Jesus bodily from the dead is available to us in the here and now, that is another. Variations of each of these two perspectives are common within our churches. We should not understate, however, the vast differences between them.
Christians have long held that the resurrection of Jesus is an event in history with cosmic soteriological ramifications. It is, at one level, a declaration by God that in his death, Jesus conquered death. It is a clear demonstration that in God’s creation sin, sadness, and hopelessness will never have the last word. It is a sure sign that God’s plans will not be thwarted.
The Resurrection of Jesus, however, is more than simply a declaration or sign. It is an eschatological event. In other words, it is a part of the way in which God will redeem all of creation. Christ’s resurrection presages our own resurrection, and our resurrection is simply a part of God’s new creation (2 Cor 5:17). As N. T. Wright has pointed out on many occasions, when Paul talks about Jesus as the “first fruits” of those who have died (1 Cor 15:20), he is telling us that the transformation of Jesus that took place in his resurrection is the same transformation that will happen to each of us. God’s goal for us is not a disembodied, ethereal existence, but a restored creation in which heaven and earth are one.
If you are a preacher, let me encourage you: this Easter, preach the resurrection in the strongest, most uncompromising, and most hopeful way you can. It is, after all, the heart of the Christian message. All of our faith hinges upon it. It is, as Wright points out below, the fulcrum of history.