The Easter circulars came out last week, and they were full of little girls’ dresses and little boys’ suits. Pastel colors were everywhere, dyed eggs and chocolate bunnies ubiquitous. Every kind of ham you can imagine, and some you’ve never heard of, is on sale: bone-in, bone-out, hickory-smoked, spiral-sliced, honey-glazed, and more.
In our increasingly post-Christian society, these are the things people know about the holiday. If you told them what Easter is really about, they would hardly believe it.
Easter, as a Christian holiday – the Christian holiday – is an anniversary celebration. It’s not about how people dress or what they eat, but about what happened early on a Spring morning outside Jerusalem around the year 29 of the Common Era. It was the day that changed the world.
Though the sun still rose in the east and the earth still spun on its axis, Easter transformed the world. It was the first day of the last times. Easter, Christians believe, marked the beginning of the end of death, and the beginning of the beginning of life everlasting—it changed everything.
Too often, people think of Jesus’s resurrection as nothing more than a reassuring proof that there is life after death. But on that first Easter, no one was asking for that kind of proof. The overwhelming majority of people across the earth and across time already believed in life after death.
The early Christians did not think of Jesus’s resurrection as evidence they would live on as spirits or ghosts or life-forces in some ethereal heaven. Once they realized that Jesus was not merely alive but resurrected, they began announcing the dawn of the new age. They believed “the renewal of all things” (to use Jesus’s own words) had commenced. They did not see Jesus’s resurrection as some one-off event, but as the first stone in an avalanche.
To the early Christians, Jesus’s resurrection was not just confirmation that death had been defeated— though it was certainly that. It was proof that God’s kingdom was at hand and his ancient promise to renew all things – to make everything right – would surely be fulfilled. It was proof to the disciples, as Chesterton once put it, that the world had died in the night and that “what they were looking at was the first day of a new creation…”
For the biblical writers, the resurrection was not so much proof that we will go to heaven when we die as proof that God’s kingdom had come to earth while we live. It was confirmation that the new age had dawned or, to be more precise, that the new age is dawning. People sometimes ask the question, “What would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” The biblical writers would more likely have asked, “What would you do if you knew you were going to live tomorrow – live fully in God’s kingdom here on earth?
The resurrection convinced early Christians that God’s kingdom had invaded earth. They also believed the complementary truth that God’s king, and not death, will have the last word. There is life on the other side of the tomb.
My wife and I have a Sunday morning routine. For the last 30 years, I have left the parsonage before her and crossed the field, heading for worship service. Before I leave, I always kiss her and say, “See you over there.”
Someday one of us will leave the other and cross the threshold of death, not heading for church but for glory. On that day, we won’t say goodbye; goodbye is not the right word. When C. S. Lewis left Sheldon Vanauken in Oxford, he told him, “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.” When he got to the other side of the street, he turned and yelled: “Besides—Christians never say goodbye.”
Because of the resurrection, there will be no need to say goodbye to my wife. I’ll just say, as I’ve said a thousand times before, “See you over there” – not in some ethereal heaven in which we are ill at ease, uncomfortable guests, but in our own place, prepared by Christ, humanity’s true home.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 3/31/2018