Throughout the world many Christians recite or chant on a weekly basis the ancient Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, with these familiar closing lines: “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” When repeated so frequently, it is easy to neglect their inner meaning. Yet the words nevertheless enter our hearts in a subconscious way, available to us when we need them.
And now, of all times, we definitely need them. The past year has been difficult for so many people. We long ago tired of the imposed (necessary) lockdowns. Tensions have boiled over into violence in the United States, Russia, and even the otherwise peaceful Netherlands. Existing societal divisions have been exacerbated by the need for physical distancing. More than two million people have died from COVID-19, and some of these deaths have touched family and friends.
Our own family has suffered loss. Both of my parents-in-law died within 14 months of each other, one of their deaths COVID-related. My father died last August at a good old age, and since then I take time every day to FaceTime my mother, a widow after 66 years of marriage. I’ve not seen my barber in months, and I have the long hair to prove it, but I worry about how he and other small businesspeople are getting along with their shops closed. Late last year I delivered a chapel address on the 11th chapter of Job, a book whose author puzzles over the misfortunes suffered by the righteous – something at the surface of our concerns these days.
During these troubled times, the message of Easter takes on deeper meaning. In 12 years, we will celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus’ death and resurrection, by far the most significant events in human history. For just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so he has promised that we too shall be raised at the last day. This is something that I am taking great comfort in after seeing so much adversity in so many people’s lives.
Apart from the Bible, which I read at least twice daily, the book that has most heightened my hope in the resurrection is Jim Skillen’s God’s Sabbath with Creation, which I read two years ago. After this book, I am reading such biblical texts as 1 Corinthians 15 and Hebrews 3-4 in a different light. Our own resurrections are not just an afterthought made necessary by our sin. From the outset God structured his creation in term of six days, as outlined in the first chapter of Genesis. We ourselves are sixth-day creatures, made in God’s image, but perishable all the same.
Yet God’s seventh day, when we are raised to new life and enter into his rest, is built into the very structure of his creation. As Paul puts it, “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-44). When we enter God’s rest on that seventh day, we will share in that final redemption when creation “will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
In the meantime, as we await our own resurrections at Christ’s return, we continue to confess with the Creed that “the third day he arose again, according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.”