Let me say first that I am thankful for my heritage in Churches of Christ. Having gone through a critical stage earlier in life, I aim for holding respectful critique in tension with deep gratitude for the innumerable gifts I've been given by my immediate family of faith. My personal experience of childhood and adolescence in Churches of Christ was overwhelmingly good, and I stand on the shoulders of so many faithful women and men.
I also acknowledge that my story is not universal; I know that others have their own stories to tell - some beautiful, some not. My goal here is just to share my own story of coming to discover Jesus' resurrection.
In my experience growing up in (weekly-Eucharist) Churches of Christ in the 80's, it seemed like Easter was mostly about Friday. The vast majority of my Easter Sunday memories are about baskets of chocolate and new summery Sunday dresses. Though my home congregation was not ultra-conservative in our family spectrum, I had heard (more than once) “we don’t celebrate Easter Sunday because we celebrate Easter Every Sunday.” But looking back, the focus during the weekly Lord’s Supper was overwhelmingly on Friday’s cross and on our sins – indeed, I was told that during Communion I was supposed to (quietly) “think and pray about how Jesus died for my sins.” Even the songs in the Easter-themed section in our songbook, if you looked closely, were almost entirely focused on Friday and on Jesus paying for our sins. It felt like the Resurrection on Sunday was almost an afterthought - we were supposed to be happy about it, but it didn't really affect our theology or our lives because Jesus' death on the cross on Friday was The Whole Point.
So I almost feel like I missed out on the Resurrection for a few decades. But now I can’t stop talking about it.
Maybe I’m just making up for lost time. But I’ve also been reading several different authors (Willard, Wright) over the past ten years, and getting glimpses of a slightly different “big picture” than the one I learned growing up. For me it’s been as if I’ve been gazing at a beautiful painting, and then a few helpful people pointed out that the prescription of my glasses was outdated, and when I try on the new lenses, I'm amazed as more things come into focus, colors are sharper and more brilliant, and I can start to catch glimpses of depth and beauty that I didn’t know was there before.
I’m still processing and learning, so what follows is unfinished, but I feel a need to share.
Many define the Gospel (Good News) as: Jesus came and died for your sins so that you can have eternal life (which is defined as going to Heaven when you die.) There is a familiar image used often to portray this: a gaping chasm with me on one side and God on the other, because my sin has separated me from God, and only Christ on the Cross can span that chasm by making a bridge from me to God by “paying for my sins” (taking my punishment).
But then one author pointed out that Jesus’ actual definition of Gospel (Good News) was “Turn your heart around – the Kingdom of God is at hand!” (As in, the Kingdom of God is something available to you starting now, not just when you die). And then Jesus defined eternal life as Knowing God. (As in, undying life starts now when we know God.) And he kept painting picture after picture of what it looks like for someone to pledge allegiance to God’s new Kingdom – Jesus taught so much about the Kingdom of God, as if that was the point of everything. Jesus prayed, “Your Kingdom come: may Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God’s Kingdom has come where God’s will is already being done on earth, as it is in Heaven.
I’m seeing a different picture of Jesus now. Before, the big picture had been that Jesus came to die and pay for my sins so I could go to Heaven when I die. But now, the big picture I see is that Jesus came to show us what our loving Creator God is really like, and to inaugurate God’s Kingdom on earth.
That big picture somehow seems… bigger.
Jesus’ invitation into a New Kingdom was an extremely offensive message to the ruling kingdoms of his day, and they killed him for it. And we see God's unfailing love for us in Jesus' willingness to die. But on the third day, God raised Jesus from the dead, remaking his body, conquering the enemy Death (and sin and Satan) and inaugurated God’s Kingdom on earth. The Resurrection was the shocking sign that God has won and that death cannot stop Life.
We live “between the times;” God’s Kingdom has already broken in, though it isn’t fully here yet. Those who have thrown themselves under the reign of a New King are practicing now for the full arrival of God’s Kingdom (loving God and neighbor and working towards the reconciliation of all things) – when he will bring Heaven down to earth and remake them both as one. Jesus was the first to get a Resurrection body; we fully expect that, after some “sleep,” we also will be raised from the dead and given new bodies that will not decay or die.
We are wrestling with how we teach our daughters about Jesus' death and Resurrection and enjoying exploring new metaphors and different vocabulary than we grew up with - it's not about chocolate and new dresses. And so we're trying to learn to live as Resurrection people, working for the New Kingdom now, because the party has already started!
Peace to you,