Here Is Hope and Promise For Us All

Here Is Hope and Promise For Us All

At Easter, with Christians across the globe and with Christians throughout the centuries before us, we celebrate that when the man Jesus of Nazareth lay dead in a tomb near Jerusalem, God chose to share God’s own life with him in order that he be raised from the dead. In the mystery of that astonishing event, life became promising for each one of us. We may say with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” (1 Peter 1:3) 

Yet notwithstanding that confident hope, we are wise to proceed humbly when speaking of the resurrection. And we are in good company if we do so because surprisingly little is attempted even in the New Testament by way of an explanation for the resurrection. We have appearance stories. Testimony also enters the record about an empty tomb. Yet it lends integrity to these limited accounts that there has been no attempt to describe or ‘make up’ what happened between God and Jesus in that tomb. 

One thing not to be missed in the biblical record is that the resurrection is God’s doing. It is especially Peter (preaching at Acts 10:34-43) who declares that it was God who was proclaiming the message of peace through Jesus Christ; God who anointed Jesus at his baptism; God who raised him on the third day; and God who ordained Jesus to be Lord of the living and the dead. The resurrection was the culmination, but not the end, of an extraordinary drama in which these two characters, God and Jesus, were so interwoven the early church began to confess that if you have seen the Son, then you have also seen the Father. It is a wonderfully straightforward expression of the central conviction of the Christian Church: Jesus’s work is God’s work; Jesus’ life is God’s life. 

Yet it’s not true to speak of only ‘two characters.’ There is a way of understanding the resurrection that arose before Paul wrote his letters (beginning in the early 50s) and which he incorporates into his own thinking. It is located at the start of Romans. The tradition is this: that Christ’s resurrection from the dead was an activity of the “spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4).  

Pre-dating Paul, this is a very early attempt indeed to grasp what lay behind the mystery of the resurrection. The Spirit, which the Hebrew scriptures refer to as ‘breath’, ‘wind’, ‘storm’, and the ‘power of creation’, is the quake of energy that brought Jesus from death to life. According to this early understanding, God the Spirit is the power of resurrection life. 

And if speaking of the Spirit as the power of resurrection life isn’t interesting enough, also intriguing is the fact that the New Testament speaks of the same Spirit as creating the church, as a counsellor, guide, and inspiration to believers, and the instinct that leads into truth.  

So, at Easter we also celebrate that when we ourselves experience the church truly being the church, when we feel the nearness of the guidance, counsel, and inspiration of God, and when we feel ourselves led into truth, then perhaps we too have been found by the quake (or whisper?) of the Spirit at work in the resurrection of Christ.  

When we have such experiences, we sense that we have been encountered and helped by something from beyond our individual or even our collective capabilities. Something, someone outside of us reaching in. The believer, and the believing community, are part of the resurrection reality through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

I shouldn’t finish without returning to the earlier image of the resurrection as the culmination but not the end of the drama. One of the regular mistakes we make is to view the resurrection as a closed event. It has happened; it happened to Jesus; and it is over. But this is to neglect one of the core aspects of the early Christian teaching about the resurrection. 

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not the happy ending to an otherwise sad story. The early church believed his resurrection to be the start of God’s new creation. The New Testament uses various images to express this truth. Primary among them is the belief that the risen Christ is ‘the first fruits of those who have died’ (1 Cor 15:20) and ‘the firstborn from among the dead’ (Col 1:18). The resurrection is an open event; it is an ongoing process.  

Here is hope and promise for us all. Death is shown not to be the power we thought it to be. Reality has been changed. The resurrection is the beginning of the new creation when God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). We are all being included in whatever was the astonishing event, which we now apprehend only in part, that happened in that tomb outside Jerusalem. Along with those who have already passed into the rich life of God, the words of the Psalmist will be fulfilled for us: 

Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices; 

my body also rests secure. 

For you do not give me up to the depths, 

or let your faithful one see the pit. 

You show me the path of life; 

in your presence there is fullness of joy, 

in your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16: 9-11)  

Rev. Dr Peter Walker is Principal of the United Theological College and teaches in the areas of systematic and historical theology. 


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