On this second Monday of Easter, our guide for the second chapter of The Challenge of Easter is Juli Kalbaugh.
They seem to be everywhere. The more I look, the more I find. One on my chin – a dive into home plate. One on my wrist – chickenpox in second grade. Several on my legs – falling off my bike, falling in love, falling down… again. A nice big one on my left knee – ACL torn and remade. There are also ones that can’t be seen with the eyes. Some are small. Others aren’t easily hidden. Some have a funny story or fond memory. Others are bathed in shame. Each one a mark, revealing a little bit of where I have been and who I am. Signs that I have lived – here and now. All of them telling a piece of a story – my story.
My mom used to tell me not to worry about some of the especially nasty scars. “They’ll be gone by the time you’re married,” she would assure me. While I believe my mom had good intentions, I fear something gets missed by easily dismissing part of the story. I also fear that we, as Christians, have this same sort of sentiment about heaven and earth. “Don’t worry about it – everything that is here will be gone when you ‘get to heaven’. It will all be erased and you will be rid of your body!” It seems good at first glance. I mean, of course I want to be healed and freed from the hurt and pain and awful things I experience in this life. And yes, I believe that God can and will do that. But if the answer is that everything is simply wiped out and heaven is someplace I escape to, away from all that I have known or been or done – then why the hell does anything matter now?
I fear that when we tell God’s story this way we are not telling all of the story. Surely there must have been something more to Easter than simply an erasing of what has been, more than an escape from earth. It must have been something that was big enough, deep enough, real enough for the first Christians to have it be, as Wright said, “the ground not only for [their] future hope but for their present work.” This same reality must also have something to do with us here and with us now. Perhaps if we take a closer look at Jesus’ resurrection we might be able to tell a bit about God’s heart for the world as well as something about our part in the story.
Jesus’ bodily resurrection reveals that this was not simply, and only, a “soul-saving” work. Wright puts it another way in his book Surprised by Hope, “[The early Christians] believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter.” The whole cosmos. All of creation. Not just part of it. All of it. He’s not going to, and didn’t, only redeem the immaterial and spiritual – He has and is renewing the material, the corporeal, the dirty, dusty, messy, earthy stuff too. He has and is redeeming me and you and all of the marks we have made on our selves and on each other and on this earth – both seen and unseen.
Jesus’ resurrected body holds both continuity and discontinuity with this world – it is similar but radically different. His resurrected body still has evidence of the wounds and scars He received on earth. It holds signs of the past – signs of where He had been and what He had been through. The resurrection didn’t just erase everything or pretend that it didn’t happen. After the resurrection Jesus also continues to hold His identity. The disciples knew who He was, but they also knew that something was drastically changed. And, in His resurrected state, He continues His relationship with us.
Jesus’ resurrection tells His story – where He came from, who He was, who He is, and also reveals what is to come. The resurrection is His life made new – not erased, not dismissed – but healed, and glorified, and most true.
Why does it matter that Jesus actually and physically rose from the dead? Because the resurrection also tells our story – where we have been, what we have done, what has been done to us, and what is to come. It acknowledges all of who we are. It says: you – matter. What you do – matters. Your body – matters. What you do to another person – matters. The earth and how you treat it – matters.
“The present life of the church, in other words, is not about ‘soul-making,’ the attempt to produce or train disembodied beings for a future disembodied life. It is about working with fully human beings who will be re-embodied at the last, after the model of the Messiah,” says Wright. So, when Jesus tells us to care for the sick, feed the poor, plant trees, sing songs, paint a picture, restore a house, say you’re sorry – He’s not just telling us to do them so we’ve got something to keep us busy we wait “to go to heaven.” No, in fact, the Bible says heaven is coming to earth and it started with the resurrection of Jesus. He tells us to do those things because we are invited to be a part of His redemptive work on earth. It’s because it matters – here. It matters – now. It’s because we are a part of the story. We are a part of building God’s kingdom and what we do matters both now and later. This is why Paul is able to say, “Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” Because what we do and who we are – matters.
Juli and her husband Corey currently live in Charlottesville, VA where she is a resident visual artist at Skylight Studios. Juli will attend Duke Divinity School this fall and hopes to invite people to wrestle through questions about God and issues of theology as viewed through the lens of the arts, the senses, and the imagination.Juli loves nooks and crannies, cheeseburgers, and 80s music. You can keep up with her at EveningSoultide or see more of her art at JuliKalbaugh.com.