Those of us who insist on the centrality of the Resurrection of Jesus have recently been caricatured by a commenter over at Thinking Anglicans as believing that nothing else really matters ‘unless you, personally, get to live forever’.
I think this is a gross misunderstanding of how the early Christians understood the centrality of the Resurrection. Listen to Paul:
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1-6).
The Resurrection is obviously central in Paul’s thought here, but it’s not primarily about my personal survival of death. It means that Jesus has been declared to be the Son of God ‘with power’; it is God’s declaration that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’. And this is good news, because it means that the Lord of the universe is not the vicious tyrant in Rome, but the one who loved us and gave himself for us. The last word in history will not go to dictators or terrorists or drug lords, or presidents or prime ministers or CEOs of multinational corporations, but to Jesus Christ our Lord.
Listen to Peter on the Day of Pentecost:
‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know – this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power… This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.’ (Acts 2:22-24, 32-36).
There it is again: the Resurrection is the evidence that God has made him – ‘this Jesus whom you crucified’ – both Lord and Messiah. It’s not primarily about my personal survival of death. Its primary meaning concerns the victory of love over hate, of good over evil, of Jesus over the principalities and powers. The Resurrection tells us that in the end, love wins.
And this is important, because there’s not really a lot of evidence for that sentiment. ‘Love never dies’, says the popular song, but in fact all love does eventually die, because the lovers die; you don’t see skeletons loving each other. Strong and resilient souls may be able to stand against injustice and oppression with nothing to support them but their own stubbornness, but most of us lesser mortals need a stronger hope than that. The Resurrection gives us that hope: not primarily that we will live forever (although that’s included, and I’m glad for it), but that Jesus is Lord, and that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess his Lordship, to the glory of God the Father. In the end, justice will prevail; in the end, love will win. That’s what the Resurrection tells me, that’s why it’s good news, and that’s why, if Christ is not raised, our faith is in vain.