It’s still Easter? Haven’t we moved on yet? It’s 50 days!?
Maybe you don’t feel like that, because you moved on to new topics 3 weeks ago. Maybe you’ve been confused these past three weeks why I seem to be stuck on Easter and resurrection.
I continue to find the Church Calendar to be an amazing and fathomless tool for spiritual transformation, for being (trans)formed according to the life of Christ. So-called “Liturgical” (which is a misnomer, because all churches have liturgies) or “High” churches — namely, Lutheran (some), Episcopal/Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox churches — celebrate the Church Year in their weekly worship, paying attention to the seasons of the Christian life that correspond with events and themes in the biblical witness to the life of Christ. I did not grow up worshiping this way. My church, like most Protestant, Evangelical churches, paid attention to the big holidays — Christmas (and therefore, the season of Advent, to build up the hype), Holy Week (and therefore, Lent, wherein we “give up” something we’re too attached to, because Jesus is going to die, so we should feel sad about it), Easter Sunday (three services!), and Pentecost (maybe…we’re not charismatics!). I’m writing with my tongue in my cheek here, but the point I want to make is that I grew up with the Christian year being marked by high days, not whole seasons. To celebrate 50 days of Easter is a discipline!
But what a discipline! And of course Easter should outlast Lent, if we really believe that life wins over death, and God is now triumphant, and the cross and tomb are empty! What is more, this should be a discipline that is easy to take up, because it’s saturated through with joyful celebration, with light and bright colors, with loud “Alleluia!”s. If we really believe that Christ is risen — He is risen, indeed! — then we who are in Christ have a guarantee that we, too, will be raised!
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:50-52; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)
This is Easter’s good news! Thanks be to God! If we give Easter only one Sunday (even with the extra Sunrise Service thrown in), we risk telling a lopsided story of grace.
There will come a time, which might indeed come at any time, when, in the great renewal of the world that Easter itself foreshadowed, Jesus himself will be personally present and will be the agent and model of the transformation that will happen both to the whole world and also to believers….As with the ascension, so with Jesus’s appearing: it was seen as a vital part of a full presentation of the Jesus who was and is and is to come. Without it the church’s proclamation makes no sense. Take it away, and all sorts of things start to unravel. (Surprised by Hope, 136)
And so we celebrate that Christ really is risen, and we will celebrate in the coming weeks that he really is ascended into heaven, and he really will come again. Because if we don’t, then what story are we really telling? If Christ isn’t still alive and active and ruling, then what good’s the gospel?
Maybe we downplay Christ’s return, because with it comes judgment. Maybe we know all too well how John Donne feels:
Holy Sonnet VII: “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners, Blow,” by John Donne
At the round earth’s imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o’erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance, hath slain, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death’s woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space,
For, if above all these, my sins abound,
‘Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace,
When we are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent; for that’s as good
As if thou hadst seal’d my pardon, with thy blood.
We simultaneously pray, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” in worship, and murmur, “But, you know, take your time. Don’t be hasty.” I have certainly prayed halfhearted maranathas. Might this be because we don’t really understand Christ’s — or our own — resurrection, or Christ’s coming return? What is it we expect will happen when that trumpet blows? What does it mean that, “we will all be changed”?
We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible, not least in the Psalms, God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment. (Surprised by Hope, 137)
When we celebrate the full story of Easter, and explore all of its implications, we can pray loud and lighthearted maranathas, because we understand that the world to come, and the judgment that marks its arrival, is the fullness of blessing. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us how we might better pray “Maranatha!” this Easter:
Q. How does Christ’s return “to judge the living and the dead” comfort you?
A. In all distress and persecution, with uplifted head I confidently await the very judge who has already offered himself to the judgment of God in my place and removed the whole curse from me. Christ will cast all his enemies and mine into everlasting condemnation, but will take me and all his chosen ones to himself into the joy and glory of heaven.