I love that as we liturgical churches count time, we have no less than a week of Sundays to celebrate the Easter gospel. For seven weeks we keep the Easter feast as we shout, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” Actually, Easter is like a life-giving spring throughout the church year, whispering hope in Jesus Christ underneath every baptism, Communion, sermon, and funeral.
That said, it is always easy to turn Easter into a spring festival or a metaphor for all things new and beautiful, changing and optimistic. In his poem, “Seven Stanzas for Easter,” John Updike wrote of Easter, “Let us not mock God with metaphor.” What Jesus went through in His cross and resurrection was no metaphor. It was history, empirical, corporeal history!
Alarming as well is a tendency to spiritualize the Easter gospel. Some call it a neo-gnosticism, harking back to the old Greek dualism of spirit as good and matter as evil. So when people die, we may talk about them as immediately being in heaven, singing in the celestial choir or playing golf on the heavenly fairways, but all of this spiritually. We die, it seems, and immediately our spirits just keep on living, happily ever after. Some even go so far as to say we become angels when we die, watching over those still on earth, again, as spiritual beings. And that’s Easter – our spirits live on in Jesus.
What’s missing here? What’s missing is the very core of the Easter gospel! When Jesus rose from the dead, he rose physically. He didn’t rise to become a spirit or an angel. He rose with the very same body they had pinned to a cross and buried in a tomb. He had the same muscles, corpuscles, nerves, and proteins He had when He walked the Galilean hills. Only now His body was glorified.
So what happens when we die? The Scriptures teach that our souls go immediately to be with the Lord. Call it Paradise. Jesus did. He told the thief on the cross to His right, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). So, yes, our souls go to be with the Lord, but then there is so much more.
When Jesus comes again in glory, our bodies will be raised to be like His raised and glorified body. Paul writes in Philippians 3: 20-21: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
Easter says we get out bodies back, just as Jesus did – not some other bodies, but the bodies we have now, like His, glorified! I don’t know what a glorified gallbladder looks like, but it will be. I know I liked my body a lot more when I was 18 than I do now. But then, when Jesus comes again, our risen bodies will show no signs of aging, abuse, sickness, or pain. We will all be “10’s!” And then will come the judgment and the new heaven and the new earth. There, body and soul together, we will serve the Lord forever. And it may take a little work, but like Jesus’s disciples seeing Him after His resurrection, I believe we will eventually recognize one another.
The full story of Easter is so much richer than the metaphorized or spiritualized version and so very critical. Again, read John Updike’s first stanza of “Seven Stanzas for Easter:”
Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.
The church will not fall because Jesus rose physically from the dead! A blessed Eastertide!