A Friendly Easter Exhortation: Rise Up and Get the Hell Out of Here

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In the midst of Holy Week, as we enter into the dramatic triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it is worth pausing for a moment to reconsider what all this is for. What have the crucifixion of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb and the resurrection of Jesus as the vindicated Son got to do with us?

In my last post I wrote about the unifying force of the gospel manifesting itself in racial reconciliation. In this post, I want to continue this line of thinking by exploring another implication of the gospel, namely its restorative power. The gospel – the proclamation that the crucified and risen Jesus is King – does not merely lead to the salvation of individual souls but creates an entirely new community called to join in God’s new creation project.

The events of Holy Week serve as the hinge of human history. This is because what Jesus did during Holy Week are the very things that accomplish our salvation. The question then becomes: how are we to understand salvation?

The apostle Paul wrote that Jesus’ blood purchased our redemption. Many understand this to mean that through the events of Holy Week, Jesus bought us each a very expensive one-way ticket that will one day allow us to escape the trappings of this earth and get to a remote place somewhere above us called “heaven.” According to this understanding, heaven is our ethereal home and so it’s best not to concern ourselves much with things below lest we be corrupted by the dust. Salvation involves a flight from earth; it is an escape to heaven.

The New Testament, however, provides a remarkably different vision of heaven. In the closing scene, we don’t witness disembodied souls floating up to heaven. Instead, we see God coming down to dwell with us. This is the vision of the age to come:

“I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” (Revelation 21:2-4)

Heaven is not an escape from creation; it is its consummation. It is, to borrow a turn of phrase from a friend, the stuff of earth coming to full bloom. To think otherwise is to seriously misunderstand both the incarnation and the resurrection. The Word becoming flesh indicates God’s commitment to solidarity with us created things. The resurrection only solidifies this marriage. The resurrection of Jesus’ body is a crowning of the Incarnation, not the canceling of it.[1]

To imagine salvation as an escape from earth to heaven is to “betray the Image” and essentially “unmake” the Word made flesh.[2] In the vision of heaven we see in the New Testament, Jesus does not say: “Behold, I am saving individual souls and transporting them from earth to heaven.” Instead, He says: “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

The Word (re)made flesh is forever married to creation and this resurrected Word speaks volumes. God is not abandoning creation and we, the faithful, along with him. Rather, through the salvation accomplished in the events of Holy Week, God is working to restore creation. This has profound implications for us.

Alasdair MacIntyre famously wrote that “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”[3] Those who follow Jesus find themselves in a story with four chapters: creation, fall, redemption and restoration. The resurrection of Jesus indicates that salvation is an invitation not to abandon creation but to God’s commitment to redeeming and restoring it.

The events of Holy Week are about far more than individuals “getting right with God.” They are about God putting all things to rights through the resurrected Jesus and those who walk in his newness of life. The gospel beckons us not to withdraw but to engage with God in His new creation project.

It is not merely a call to evangelism. It is a call, in a sense, to allow God to use us as the answers to our own prayers that God’s kingdom would come, that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

It is far more useful to imagine heaven and hell not as “places” according to geospatial coordinates but as spheres in terms of the Kingdom of God, where God’s rule abides. Heaven is not a platonic place where disembodied souls float around with God. Heaven is where God dwells with His people, where truth, justice, goodness, beauty abound. It is the place where there is no mourning, crying, pain, or death, where there is none hurt or destroy, where “all the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11:9) Hell is but the opposite.

The new creation project is largely about dispelling hell and working towards bringing God’s will to bear on earth as it is in heaven. It includes things very real things we can get involved in now. Things like fighting to abolish the trafficking of the nearly 36 million slaves currently in bondage.[4] It includes combatting exploitation and degradation of animals through atrocities like wildlife poaching and industrialized factory farming. It means working to conserve the earth and protect it from the despoliation fueled by unsustainable consumption.

The events of Holy Week call for a reimagining of salvation and of heaven and hell. Imagining salvation and our future destination as an escape from earth is not only unbiblical, it often results in the neglect, exploitation and destruction of creation. In other words, an impoverished vision of the future age to come leads to the stifling of God’s mission in our present lives.

And so we return to the initial question: What have the crucifixion of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb and the resurrection of Jesus as the vindicated Son got to do with us? The events of Holy Week offer an invitation not to flee creation but to restore it. It is an invitation not to escape but to rise up with the resurrected Jesus and get the hell out of here.

 

[1] Herbert McCabe, God Matters (London: Continuum, 2010), 110.
[2] John Muir, “The Incarnate One,” from Malcolm Guite, The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem A Day for Lent and Easter (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2014), 129-132.
[3] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 216.
[4] According to data published by the International Justice Mission, an effective Christian non-profit organization that effectively engages in God’s new creation project, there are an estimated 35.9 million men, women and children trapped in modern slavery. See https://www.ijm.org/sites/default/files/fact-sheets/IJM-Casework-Fact-Sheets-Forced-Labor.pdf

 

 

 

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