Death: Our Reality But Not Our End

This season in the church calendar post-Easter but pre-Pentecost, gives us a chance to pause the story at probably the best part. Jesus is not dead—he is alive and is with us. Lent is five or six solemn weeks of sacrifice, contemplation, and repentance, where we experience the sufferings of Jesus: his forty days spent in the wilderness, his road to the cross, and ultimately his death. But then Easter hits, and we get seven whole Sundays of rejoicing—reminding us that Death was not the end of the story, that Life got the last word. In this season we get time to live into the mysterious joy of the Resurrection story, to wrap our minds around it, to let it get inside our hearts and change us.

But this season (like everything else), isn’t exactly all celebration and joy. Christ is risen, but we have yet to experience for ourselves the final Resurrection he promised was coming, the time when everything will be perfect. We live in the middle of the Kingdom of God that is in some ways already here but in other ways has not yet fully come. Christ is risen, but all has not yet been made right. And it’s times like this past week after bombings and explosions that we so long for everything to be made right.

What would this time have been like in the very early church?  After the disciples find out Jesus is alive, some people see and speak with him, but others only hear vague rumors and are left in confusion and doubt. I remember Thomas—his skepticism and reluctance to believe the reports of others. But how many others were wondering the same things he was: What on earth (and in heaven) is going on right now?

I remember also that the remaining disciples, leader-less and direction-less, were staying in Jerusalem. Just waiting. Maybe it’s a symptom of my life right now that this time in the church calendar strikes me as being primarily about waiting. I’m waiting for oh-so-many things, so I sympathize with the disciples, stuck waiting around and having to figure things out on their own.

Jesus had told the disciples to wait in Jerusalem, though for what exactly they didn’t know. In his typically cryptic way, Jesus told them “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). Right, Jesus. Ok. What’s that supposed to mean? And when exactly will we be ‘clothed with power’? And what’s that going to look like? But Jesus doesn’t show up to answer any of their questions. They end up waiting in Jerusalem for about fifty days—a long time without answers to the questions plaguing them.

We have the benefit of knowing what eventually happens: Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit with the “sound like the blowing of a violent wind” and “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:1-4). Definitely worth the wait. But I’m reluctant to jump ahead too quickly. Right now we’re still in the middle of this waiting, and I think it’s good for us to stay here because it allows us to figure out what it means to wait and look for the Kingdom of God that is coming.

This season can be tricky. Even though we’re supposed to be celebrating Resurrection and new life, right now my head and heart are full of news of death. Death is our reality. And yet, Easter still reminds us that death is not the end. When death was our reality, God came to us as one of us and conquered the grave. Death is not the end of the story for us. Instead, God is constantly working new life in us—even when we feel like we’re still waiting for that new life to start. Post-Easter Sunday invites us to live in the power of the Resurrection story, and to recognize Resurrection power at work—even when we are surrounded by overwhelming news of death.

How then shall we live—in this tension between the new life we know and have experienced in Christ and the new reality we are still waiting for? How then should we handle each day, given that in Christ we have victory over death—it has lost its sting? How do we actively live in this time of waiting for the coming Resurrection reality? What purpose should we seek, knowing that the same power that conquered the grave lives in us?

We are a people shaped by Christ’s Resurrection. And now our vision has changed. We begin to see things differently, looking for the smaller—but by no means less significant—victories over death that we see breaking in to our current reality. We see Resurrection everywhere now—not because it suddenly appeared, but because now we are looking for it, paying attention, ready to jump in and be a part of what God is doing to bring new life.

As we learn to see anew in light of the Resurrection, as we sit with the fact that the same power that conquered the grave lives in us, we start responding differently. Being marked by the reversal of death makes us live differently. How then shall we live?  “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).


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