At the heart of the Easter narrative is a miraculous tale of life after death, of sacrifice and renewal, but how can we practise this concept of resurrection in today’s world? Dr John Frederick—Trinity College Queensland’s New Testament Lecturer—reflects on Jesus’ miracle and how Uniting Church members can embody resurrection in their own faith communities.
With the coming of Easter, we enter a season of celebration focused on one of the central mysteries of the Christian faith, namely, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As much as the doctrine baffles the skeptical postmodern climate in which we all exist, there is no doubt—both Holy Scripture and sacred tradition bear witness to the bodily, physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In Luke 24, for example, Jesus appears to his disciples, wishes them peace, and then in verses 38–39, asks: “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
Directly after this, Jesus reveals that saving the world through dying and rising has apparently given him a case of the post-resurrection munchies because he asks his disciples in verse 41, “Do you have anything to eat?”
Verses 42–43 report that Jesus was given a piece of broiled fish which he took and “ate before them.” Clearly, this account is striving to demonstrate the physical, bodily nature of the resurrected Lord. And, there are many other accounts like this in the New Testament.
Likewise, the great ecumenical creeds of the church have also insisted upon both the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Christ, and of the subsequent resurrection of the church and of all humanity in the last days. The resurrection, therefore, must be considered to be a core article of the Christian faith held by all people, in all places, at all times in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church across denominations, including the Uniting Church (see Basis of Union Paragraph 9).
This foundational belief remains absolutely crucial today. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:17 that if Christ has not been raised “our preaching and our faith” is in vain. Yet, as important as this doctrine is, the holy scripture does not call us to merely believe in the resurrection through cognitive assent to it as an indispensable Christian dogma; it calls us to become the resurrection as the means of bringing the reconciling love and life of Jesus to one another and to the world as the body of Christ, the church.
We are meant to go wherever the sting of death and despair is felt in this broken world and bring new life, the very life of God-resurrection life.
In Colossians 2:15, the apostle Paul reminds the Church that we who have been “buried with him [Christ] in baptism” have also already “been raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Amazingly, Colossians does not speak primarily about Christ’s past resurrection or our future bodily resurrection.
Rather, the focus in Colossians is on the present reality of our collective participation in the resurrection life of the risen Lord. The theme returns in Colossians 3, with the apostle saying in verse one: “If then you have been raised with Christ [past tense], seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Chapter three goes on to demonstrate how our present participation in the resurrection life of Christ transforms us as individuals and congregations.
When we look at the mystery of our Easter faith, we have to ask ourselves as a Christian church: is the resurrection merely a doctrine we believe (or, in some cases, disbelieve), or is it a reality that we are also becoming? Most denominations throughout the world are seeking ministry strategies to spur on church revitalisation in an increasingly post–Christian culture.
While it makes sense to ask strategic questions, we must remember that the roots of revitalisation reside not primarily in the power of human reason and ingenuity but in our proclamation of and participation in the supernatural reality of the resurrection (cf. 1 Corinthians 1–3; 15). As theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson has said, we must become a people who “practise” resurrection. But what does it look like to become, participate in, practise, and live out the resurrection at the congregational level?
In order to become the resurrection we must exist as a body of believers who are marked by the proclamation of the resurrection. The gospel is the good news that God has defeated death in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for all people. We must resist the desire to divorce the literal event of Jesus’ bodily resurrection and our future bodily resurrection from the metaphorical power and spiritual reality of the resurrection in the present. It is not an “either/or” but a “both/and.”
In being a resurrection-proclaiming community we are saying to the world for the hundreds of thousands of children who die of starvation and preventable diseases every year, emaciated and broken; hunger and death do not have the last word, Jesus does. For the loved one who is suffering in their body, mind, or spirit–affliction, futility, and death do not have the last word, Jesus does. For the victims of violence, persecution, and unjust acts carried out by human beings, the last word does not belong to violence or injustice; the last word belongs to the risen Lord who boldly proclaims to his followers, “I will raise you up on the last day” (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54).
Jesus gets the last word, and that word is life—embodied, redeemed, resurrection life.
But as Colossians shows us, in proclaiming the hope of the resurrection as an article of faith, we must also become the resurrection. The church must bring the present power of the resurrection to bear on the systems, perpetrators, and powers of injustice, inequality, iniquity, and inequity of the world.
We must be restless in our practice of the resurrection, existing as vessels of hope and transformation to our communities and to the world on the basis of the power of our participation in the resurrected Christ. Our attitude should be that it is “over our dead body” that the world will continue to starve and suffer, but that it is only by the power of Christ’s resurrected body that we can be a catalyst for true redemptive change.
Those who suffer now in body, mind, or spirit should not be peddled mere theological propositions about the resurrection. Rather they should be the recipients of our tangible, continual resurrecting presence and care, and they should constitute the reason for our ongoing resurrection insurrection, that is, our committed resolve to resurrect and reform dead and broken public policies and patterns that systematically oppress the elderly, the mentally ill, and other marginalised groups within our society.
We must not only pronounce resurrection from our pulpits; we must practise it, by becoming resurrection revolutionaries who act as agents of radical hope in a world of violence, persecution, injustice, and death.
It is both a doctrine and a dictate. This is a call not only to believe, but to become the resurrection. Revitalisation is born out of the proclamation and practice of resurrection. Let us believe and become the resurrection together for the sake of Christ’s church and for the sake of the world for which he died and was raised.