Let me tell you what, nothing sucks the air out of a room quite like telling a group of people the thing we’ve all been taught our whole lives is not scriptural. Gasp! What?! Oh no Pastor, that can’t possibly be right! I know what you’re thinking. “No you didn’t. Did you really?” Not in so few words, but more or less yeah. The silence throughout the sanctuary was so heavy in that moment you could’ve heard the palpitations of a few dozen parishioner hearts skipping a beat. I mean, I didn’t come out guns a blazin’ screaming: “you’re all wrong!” though I’m sure some still heard it that way. So what was the scandalous subject of which I coyly corrected the congregation? Sex? Money? Politics? No. No. Nope. Something far more audacious and perplexing—resurrection. Arguably the most neglected doctrine of the church, with green vigor I sought to sermonically set it straight on All Saints Sunday. *liturgical facepalm* In a season when everyone’s already on guard politically—drawing hard and fast lines, erecting unscalable walls, shading differences in varying primary colors; I figured it wasn’t too tall a hill to climb. Confusing attitude for altitude, I guess I should’ve known better. Those beliefs we learn in adolescence, critically assessed or not, are clinched onto most tightly and not easily changed. When our core (in this case, Heaven) feels threatened, how quickly the response mirrors that of warding off mall kiosk solicitors: “No thank you. No thank you. I said, NO!” Still, I’m convinced that the church has been given the greatest gift of hope, for which most people either haven’t heard or don’t believe—but desperately need proclaimed.
At the risk of beating a dead horse, what do we believe happens after death—and why? What about this topic makes us dig our heels in with great tenacity? Is it out of resolute confidence or a latent fear? Many, if not most of us, have been taught or told that immediately upon death, a teeny tiny unblemished piece of us—the soul—leaves the body, escaping this wretched world, to float heavenward to a perfect peaceful place above the clouds. There, we reside in rich harmony for eternity with all those whom God has called to himself within the pearly gates along roads of gold. This is the long-held desire for countless people. Yet, when we delve into passages like Daniel 12, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21 (among countless others), we find a different, more fully-fleshed hope. The Christian hope shaped by scripture is that Jesus, the Crucified and Resurrected Christ, who in the sight of the apostles ascended toward heaven, will one day return to set all things right here in this place. On that unknown day, we confess, God will raise from their resting places those who have died, all will be given new transformed bodies—free from disease, decay, and death, and we will be reunited face-to-face with our loved ones. But the good news doesn’t stop there. John of Patmos, in his revelation (the one, singular, and only), shares the vision he is shown of a new heaven and new earth joined together as one—God’s home among humanity. God, the Creator of all, does not wait on us to climb some escalator of righteousness up to him, but rather in grace comes and takes up permanent residence with God’s people here. All things are made new—which means death and its miserable company are of no need any longer. Crying and mourning, sorrow and sadness, will be but a faint memory of the past. The goodness of God’s initial creation, the loving work of a Father’s hands, is redeemed and restored in this beautiful picture. The concern is of more than just God regaining a minuscule fragment within us, and discarding everything else as unworthy and useless. Through his death and resurrection, Christ reveals for us God’s limitless love for all of creation in its entirety—including you and I—and God’s intention of bringing back to life all that has been broken and died.
We, Christians, owe it not just to ourselves but all those whom we share this life with to dust off this brilliant gem of hope and let it reflect with radiance the light that illuminates the world. With all of the narratives of anger, fear, and despair swirling around us on a daily basis, the hope of the coming resurrection is a breath of fresh air, a promise worth clinging to amidst the tumultuous storm of uncertainty. The gospel doesn’t end with a lifeless body hanging from a cross, but mysteriously looks with nothing other than faith towards an empty tomb that had been occupied just days earlier. Ours is a physically Resurrected Christ, who gives us both new life in the present and the promise of resurrection in the time to come. I’m not debating the existence of heaven. Nor am I suggesting I possess full detailed knowledge of God’s plans. We confess the biblical hope after death to be resurrection. God’s final word is life, life anew, together with God and one another! This does not mean we are without questions—what, when, where, how? We could spend our whole lives combing (as many do) for the answers to these questions—trenching through and through the old hare’s hole, searching for a secret nowhere to be found. While we wait for that glorious day, we rest our hearts, minds, and bodies in the why answered in the cross of Jesus. Why the resurrection? I wholeheartedly believe, and scripture affirms, the answer is because God so deeply loves you and I, this whole wide world—all that which God has created. Beginning with the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, God is putting the whole cosmos—every single molecule—back together in restoring the beauty first worked by the Creator’s hands. This gives me hope—hope to live by daily, hope to be shared with the hopeless, hope to work in bringing about the kingdom of God in this time and place. Before you run off, like I’m trying to sell you some scam, ask yourselves: What is lost in believing in the resurrection?
– Pastor Andrew