We tend to view Easter as the happy end of the story of Jesus, but, when you stop to think about it, it’s really the beginning of another story. Our story!
We forget that the resurrection of Jesus is really about the resurrection of all of those who believe in his story and now look to him as “Lord.” His resurrection looks forward to more to come, the future resurrection of all those who believe in him–me, and, hopefully, you!
The problem with the “happy ending” view of Easter is that it is in the past tense, and we live in the present tense. We can wait for the future to come, which it always does, but we can’t go back into the past. We can remember the past, but no matter how much we wait, we can’t go backward in time.
This means that the resurrection of Jesus can be like a prehistoric bug frozen in amber. Such a bug fascinates us and reminds us that there were indeed bugs in prehistoric times, but the bug is not going anywhere. It’s story is over. Too often we treat the resurrection of Jesus as a completed event of the distant past that fascinates and intrigues us, (“What really happened?” “What was it like?”) but which has as little to do with our lives now as the bug in amber. It is as though the resurrection was some sort of Divine magic trick, where God brings someone out of death like a stage magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Impressive. Fascinating. But, does it have meaning for us now?
Yes, Easter is indeed something wonderful and amazing that happened in the past. But, it is more; it is a sign of things to come, the resurrection of all those who believe the Gospel and trust in Christ. As Paul put it,
“. . . in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.”
(1 Corinthians 15:20-21, ESV)
A “first fruit” was a gift given to God in the Old Testament of the first produce of the year’s harvest. It was an offering of gratitude anticipating there would be much more to come. Here, Paul is using the term to describe Jesus’ resurrection as being the first of a future harvest of resurrections!
Easter is not just an edifying or inspiring memory of a wonderful past event. It is a sign of hope, hope that our death is not the end of our story, but the beginning of another one. A better one. An eternal one.
Isaiah the prophet anticipates this hope and gives voice to it, centuries before the coming of our Lord. He speaks of God making “for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,” anticipating John’s similar vision of the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).
But, Isaiah continues on, speaking of something greater, the great victory of which the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is the celebration:
“On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. . . ”
(Isaiah 25:7-8, NIV)
And, lest we miss the point, Isaiah reminds us of it again in the following chapter:
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise.
You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a dew of light,
and the earth will give birth to the dead.”
(Isaiah 26:19,ESV )
Jesus’ story ends with his resurrection and ascension into heaven. Our story picks up where his left off. We now are the ones looking forward to resurrection. Now, knowing Jesus’ story, know that our story will end the same way.
So, we head to the grave with a lilt in our step and the sense that, no matter how difficult or painful our death may be, it’s not the end of our story. The power of “the shroud that enfolds all peoples” was broken at the cross. Jesus died, and in doing so changed death forever.
Isaiah’s words, “the earth will give birth to the dead,” are haunting. His vision of the earthen grave giving birth–a new life–to the dead helps us see that because of Jesus’ resurrection, death has become like the pain of childbirth. The pain of death isn’t the end of the story, but rather our birth, through Christ, into eternity.