What Really Counts: Reflections on Easter Sunday and the Resurrection

One must not see these new creations of God as a kind of pie-in-the-sky nonsense, a hopeless retreat into chicken littleness. The story of the resurrection that we celebrate today announces that with God all is possible and that with God new and fresh realities appear again and again. This stark newness is the promise of the resurrection. In the face of our continuing assault on the planet we inhabit, our heedless dumping of hydrocarbons into a heating sky bloated with them already, we need this promise of a new sky and a new earth.

Resurrection assures us that our ridiculous refusal to pay more attention to our planetary destruction is not the only course we must continue to take, nor is it God's will and way. Resurrection is the hope of God's future and the hope of our future as a people, not merely the hope of some personal salvation and eternal life for us as individuals. That remains for me the great scandal of the way the church has presented this crucial event to its people, that the resurrection of Jesus means the certainty of my salvation and eternal life with God. Such arrogant nonsense needs to be eschewed as the dangerous foolishness that it is. Resurrection is about us, all the people of God, not just about the few who believe certain so-called "facts" about Christian doctrine.

Isaiah continues his description of God's new earth by referring to new houses and vineyards built and planted and enjoyed by those same builders and planters, by saying that the lives of God's people will be like the lives of trees, by stating that honest work will never be in vain, that children will be blessed, that fervent and truthful prayers to God will find a ready answer (Is. 65:21-24).

He then concludes with those magnificent lines written many years earlier by another Isaiah, repeated here as the capstone of his portrayal of the full and rich promise of God's resurrection.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
         the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
         but the snake—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain,
         says YHWH
(Is. 65:25; see Is. 11).

The new earth will present some anomalies: wolves and lambs grazing together (hardly!); lions and oxen munching contentedly on straw (not likely!). But note that the wily snake of the garden of Genesis 2-3 remains the same creature who is given only dust to eat in Genesis 3:14. Also note that none of the creatures of the new earth, including the snake, will "hurt or destroy" on the holy hill of YHWH.

The story of the resurrection of Jesus promises all of that. Yet, the day that Jesus died and the supposed day of his resurrection nothing much really changed in the small corner of Palestine where these events are placed. The Romans still ran the world; the tiny band of disciples ran for their lives, while the women who followed Jesus at least had the courage to witness his death from afar and to come to anoint his body for burial. The promises of his resurrection were only to be seen by those who caught a glimpse of what the new world of God might be and began to tell others about that promise. Peter and James and Paul and Priscilla and Aquila, and a host of others kept the story alive.

Unfortunately, that story over the centuries became too narrow, too constricted. It lost the grandeur of the promises of God as found in Isaiah 65 and in many other places in the Hebrew Bible. It morphed into an individualized hope of a personalized salvation for the few rather than the promise of a new sky and earth for all. We need a larger sense of the resurrection! We need a celebration that announces that we are no longer confined to our petty individualized personal heavens, but live on a vast canvas of God's promises for all. Happy Easter! Make it a grand one this year, but do not forget in your hymns and songs and eggs and chocolate that God's fuller promises are what really count!

3/18/2016 4:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.