Already & Not Yet

This Easter Isn’t So Different After All
Vincent Van Gogh, Plain Near Auvers (Wikimedia Commons)

The writers of our gospels did a brilliant job portraying Jesus’ death. We can see it and feel it so intensely since we know death–and a world in desolation and disappointment–isn’t so hard to imagine.

But when it comes to the resurrection, the gospel’s descriptions seem unlike anything we know. They present us with a hint of the future, our future, that is hard to hold onto.

Unexpectedly, Jesus has returned, not the way he was before, but reborn into something new. His body is still a body, people can touch it and hear it and see it, but at the same time, he is much more than a dead man who has come back to life. He is recognizable to his friends, but only sometimes. He is seen by some people but not others. Even here in today’s gospel, at the empty tomb, Jesus is not there. Later in this same gospel, he is glorious and recognized immediately; in John’s gospel he is ordinary-looking enough to be mistaken for a gardener by a woman who knew him as well as anyone.

Then he is gone, his resurrection is complete. For us, left behind, it is a promise, a not yet. The not yet frustrates us. What is it, exactly, we’re now waiting for?

All the church has to offer us on this Easter, or any Easter, is the word that Christ is not dead.

At Christmas, we learned that God loves us enough to join us in this life. But on Easter, we find out that this life we know is only a hint of what God is planning to do with this creation. God is going to take this mess of a world, transform this life for us into something we can’t imagine. The evil of it vanquished, injustice wiped away, the poor restored to equality, death a thing of the past.

That future isn’t some spiritual phenomenon, some hazy, floating world after our death where we live a disembodied life. Instead, our future is a transformation of this world we already know, a new heaven and a new earth. It’s hard to believe that the God who created this world will in essence be creating it all over again. But that’s the Easter message, an entire world dying and rising again in Christ.

How do we make our “Easter duty” in a year like this one, when there’s nowhere to go to feel like we have done something? It will have to be this: to look around us on a quiet Easter morning and remember where the signs of that risen future are. Who are the people who show us what this risen life will be like? Where is it that the rejected of this world are truly cared for? When have we seen a vision of this world the way it needs to be?

We need to find those places where we see what it could be like if justice ruled, if we could allow the risen Christ to be with us. We grab onto those moments of resurrection and never let them go. We hold them in front of us, and ask God for the grace to live as if we were already citizens of a new place that one day will be ours.

All the church has to offer us on this Easter, or any Easter, is the word that Christ is not dead. He has not forgotten us. He has the power to help us. And nothing can take us away from him again.

Thomas Baker is the publisher of Commonweal.

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