“Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting? …But thank God who gives us the victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord” 1 Cor 15:55
This is the passage which I chose to read for my dad’s funeral, because it explains in a few words why Easter matters so much to me. I mean, when you face losing someone important to you, you need a pretty clear vision of what is worth dying for, and I suspect I’m not the only one who doesn’t find the idea of sitting on a cloud plucking a harp for eternity or heaven as an endless worship service particularly compelling.
Theologian and bishop NT Wright makes the case in “Surprised by Hope” that the common view of Christian hope, ie “going to heaven when you die”, is missing the point. The message of Easter is the good news of the resurrection: Jesus no longer in the tomb, but walking round, eating and drinking with his friends. Life after death is not about a disembodied spirit world, but awaiting Jesus’ return to a renewed earth, where we too will have renewed physical bodies like the one Jesus was walking round in on Easter Day.
Or, as NT Wright amusingly put it, “Heaven is the place where God stores up his plans and purposes for the future (our inheritance). If I tell a friend there’s beer in the fridge, that doesn’t mean he needs to climb into the fridge to enjoy the beer!”
And the promise is also there in that passage from 1 Corinthians 15: every foretaste of heaven we work for and dare to dream about now will be fulfilled in all its fullness then, whether we are working for good health for as long as possible, a just distribution of resources, making peace in place of conflict or providing our communities with clean water and transport. Because of the resurrection and God’s promise to return and renew the earth, “nothing we do for the Lord is ever useless”.
So what are the people I have lost doing while we wait for that glorious day? According to Hebrews 11 and 12, my dad, my grandma and all the saints are cheering us on: “So since we’re surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses [who the previous chapter had emphasised didn’t live to see all they had been promised come true yet], let’s strip off everything that’s holding us back and run the race!” In other words: let’s get on with it! Let us live our lives to the full in joyful hope for the future.
What to Read Next
- Being Mortal by surgeon Atul Gawande explores end of life care, and particularly how to ensure people have something to live for, even when their health is deteriorating.
- Every Good Endeavour by Tim Keller expands on how our work today is made meaningful by the hope of Jesus’ return to renew the earth. God’s going to need some good engineers, artists and writers so I’d better work on being the best engineer I can be!