A New World
As Christians continue to celebrate Easter, the time when we remember and rejoice at Jesus rising from the dead. It might be helpful to reconsider what Easter is actually about. All-too-often Christians think that Jesus’ rising from the dead means that we can then go to heaven. I know that this might be a shock (and disagreeable) but... that’s not entirely correct.
Yes, we believe that Jesus’ self-sacrificial love on the cross forgives sins and makes it possible for humans to be united with the Father for all eternity. But the physical resurrection of the dead is more that the promise of a spiritual salvation. As our Christian imagination usually has it heaven is thought of as a non-physical place where our souls go after death. It is usually though of as far from earth. And it is usually thought of as an eternal destination or an eternal home. We tend to imagine that our salvation means going to some spiritual/non-physical location far from earth, be with God, and stay there for all eternity.
I don’t know about you... but this has never really appealed to me. I like being alive (body and soul united) I like this world. The Good News (Gospel) is that that God likes this world too. That’s the real point of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. God’s ultimate promise and goal isn’t to get us our of the world and take [only] our souls to heaven. God’s real plan (and this is what the Bible actually says about eternal life) is to fix this broken world, heal all sin and sickness, and bring the dead back to life just like Jesus came back to life. Jesus said this:
“Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5:28-29 NRSV
The last line of the Nicene Creed is, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the fulfillment and the first installment of the promised new world. This is when we saw that God has the power and the desire to fix this world, to forgive sins, and even to end death itself. Jesus’ resurrection means that some day we will resurrect too.
This is what our ultimate hope is. As a Christian my hope isn’t just in going to heaven and staying there. The hope that is revealed on Easter Sunday morning is that the day will come when all the world is renewed and restored to life in the form of Jesus’ new life. (Cf. 1 John 3:2)
While Easter gives me great hope I also find a tremendous challenge in the implications of “The resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come.” If we believe that this will some day happen then the way that we live has to be adjusted accordingly. All-to-often Christianity has been about believing the right ideas (doctrine), following certain rules (morality), and hoping to past the test (judgement) to then get into heaven. But this is very far from what the Kingdom of God is about. If we reconsider our Christian life in light of “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” then instead of getting ready to go to heaven we need to be busy about getting this world ready for heaven to come here. (Cf. Revelation 21) If the creed is correct that our eternal home is the world to come and not a disembodied spiritual abode called heaven then we have to get ready for that version of eternity.
This is the deepest meaning of Easter. Heaven, and all good things, are coming here some day. God wants to recreate and fix this world, not get rid of it. I share all of this with you not just because we are currently in the Easter season but because I think that this time of pandemic can be a uniquely powerful time to reflect on how we are living. I contend that our culture has been so individualistic and self-focused that we only now see how interconnected we all are. We are now seeing how large and interdependent our social circle really is. If we can bring our Easter Faith to this pandemic then many be we can, when it is all over, live differently. Maybe a whole society caring for the poor, those who suffer injustice, the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalized, the unwanted, and our enemies isn’t just a pandemic response but maybe this can become how we live our normal lives. This is exactly how Jesus told us He expects us to live (Cf. Mt. 25:31-46). This is how we are supposed to cooperate with God in working to fix the world and help put it right. This is what life after Easter is supposed to look like. Maybe we can continue living this way after the pandemic is over.
Father Peter Tremblay has been the Associate Chaplain for Catholic Life since 2016. He is a member of the Franciscan religious community and was ordained a Catholic Priest in 2012. Peter served as an associate pastor at St. Paul Church in Kensington, CT as well as a theology and philosophy teacher at Archbishop Curley High School in Baltimore, MD.
Peter earned a Masters of Divinity degree from the Washington Theological Union in 2011. He works hard to advance the multifaith work of the Truitt Center especially Jewish and Catholic interfaith activities.