I awoke one morning last week recognising that I am becoming a resurrection freak. I believe in new life alongside the old. I am becoming more and more convinced that the Christian faith is about the future and that Dorothy Sayers was right when in her drama she has one of the women asking the Centurion where Jesus of Nazareth is and he replies “He roams the world where neither Roman or Jew can touch him”
But before we look at the future, let’s go back a little and establish why Jesus was crucified. It was not because of some ghastly contract with a vindictive God so that believers might go to heaven after they die. He was crucified because he was a threat to the existing way of life. This is and must be our starting point at this time of the year. They killed him because they didn’t like what he did and said. They didn’t like the way he lived. “Were they successful?” “No!” He is as alive today as he was then”
Jesus was killed because he was a threat to the existing way of life. This was what the crucifixion was all about. And today Jesus is still a threat to our way of life and the reality of the resurrection is that he roams the world pointing to a future that is very different to life as we know it today.
I recognise of course that others see the Easter story differently. Most would see it in terms of Jesus dying for our sins and we being saved for life after death if we believe it. Millions of people see it in this way. I do not. I see it, if you like, in terms of confronting our existing way of life, of “carrying one’s cross” and “rising with Christ” as the scriptures put it. This is the Christian template of life and leads us into the very essence of life as an evolving journey to God only knows where.
Some people are agnostic about what happens after death. I am not. I see myself as part and parcel of the human saga, emerging from stardust and returning to star dust, here for a while to make my contribution to the future of the human race then back to the dust, the elements, from which I came
Be that as it may, the point I am trying to make is that resurrection is about this life and is a definitive statement about the future. I am becoming increasingly convinced that the God we worship is not a God of the past , not even the present. The primary concern of the God we worship is about the future. As Jesus put it “I have come that you may have life, and have it in all its fullness”
Let me try and explain. I am told that if you trace the mighty Nile River back to its source you end up with a patch of wet mud. The same goes for the Ganges. You end up with dripping ice. Both of these rivers, however, run for thousands of kilometres and finish in deltas that have supported great civilisations. The Ganges delta today supports over 140 million people. Why then in the name of God do we concentrate so much on beginnings? The grandeur and significance of rivers lies not in a patch of mud or melting ice. It lies at the end of its course. As it is with rivers so it is with God and Life.
For fifty years now I have been wary of the great emphasis we place on the past as far as creation is concerned – the beginning of the river if you like. And for fifty years or so I have been fascinated by passages such as: “If anyone is united to Christ there is new creation. The old order has gone. A new order has begun. This is the work of God”. It is line ball with what Paul says in Galatians: “Circumcision is nothing, uncircumcision is nothing! The only thing that counts is new creation”.
The idea of new creation and God of the future is also basic to the Old Testament where Abraham sets out on a journey not knowing where he is going but trusting the God of the future. It is also reflected in those great words from Isaiah 43: “Behold I am doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it?” The situation today is that we do not perceive it and all too often spend our days contemplating a patch of mud and melting snow. It is crazy to do so! God did not create the universe! God is creating the universe and we are called to love it into being. A new order has begun. This is the work of God. The only thing that counts is new creation.
But the fact is we live in a Good Friday world. There are philosophers like A.C. Grayling who argue that everything is on the up and up and that there is abroad today “a life enhancing outlook that offers insight consolation, inspiration and meaning”. On the other hand there are philosophers like John Gray who maintain there is nothing we can do about our lives. “The self that is supposed to be choosing has not itself been chosen”. Evolution for him is a mindless, purposeless process. “Whatever will be will be.”
I find both Gray and Grayling fascinating and I am quite happy to leave them to argue out their respective views on the validity or otherwise of rationality. My vote goes for the guy who confronted the powerful in the name of the powerless and was crucified as a result. There is a huge emphasis on power today – political power, economic power, social power and so on. And there are few who confront it in the name of the powerless. We really do live in a Good Friday world. The Cross is about the present. The resurrection is about the future – and God is about the future!
My ideas on God have changed enormously over the years. I, for example, no longer see God as “a being” living in heaven. I see God as the ground of our being. I see God in terms of life itself. Bill Loader speaks of God as “the life energy of the universe”. I like that! God as the ground of our being, the Spirit of life, the one in whom we live and move and have our being. God for me is the evolutionary invitation to fullness of life, the energizing force of evolving life. Life is what we are on about this morning! To be or not to be really is the question!
And if that is the question then Jesus is the answer in that he shows us what it means to be a human being. The story of Jesus is the story of a life, and life itself. Whoever has Jesus has life. Jesus is the direction in which the universe is/should be heading as far as humanity is concerned. The Christian faith is not about ethical imperatives, as important as they may be. The Christian faith is about the nature of life itself: “being present to the presence of God.” Being precedes doing – and I find it ironic that Pilate may well be remembered for his unconscious words as he presented Jesus to the crowd “Behold, the man”. I would put in a slightly different way: “Jesus is God’s man from tomorrow”.
Every one of us one of us knows the experience of life. Fullness of life, however, is a different matter. This is something we ponder and question. What constitutes fullness of life? What must I do to experience life to the full, remembering of course that the tragedy of life is never to have lived. The Christian faith is not about saved individuals going to heaven. That to me is blasphemy. The Christian faith is about the human race and its future. Creation is in the future and we are called to love it into being with Jesus as the man from God’s tomorrow, the man who reveals ahead of time the nature of humanity. Instead of concentrating on some personal afterlife, we should be talking primarily about the future of the human race, how the universe is still expanding, and how we are on a journey to fullness of life. The delta is what it is about! Our God is a God of the future and we should put aside those things which are of the past and stretch forward to those things that are to come. Life is a journey to fullness of life.
Ted Peters expresses this very well. He maintains that the gospel of Jesus is essentially a “promise for the future” and that Jesus embodies (note well the word), Jesus embodies ahead of time what is real. “In Jesus” he says” we see life actualized ahead of time… it is new life in the midst of old life “ Peters also speaks of God’s creative activity as a “pull from the future rather than a push from the past… God creates from the future, not the past”. The point he is making is that the world speaks in terms of “homo sapiens”. We speak in terms of “homo humanus” and point to Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen, calling us into the future, embodying for us in his death and resurrection, the process of life.
There is nothing particularly new in all of this. Many people in the past have pointed up that God is a God of the future. Tillich, Moltmann, Pannenberg and others maintain that the word “God” has the primary connotation of the future. God is, if you like, the energy of the future. Let Aristotle and others assert that God pushes from the past, we see it in terms of God as the catalyst of the future, as one who invites us to a new future. Too many of our philosophers and theologians are hog-tied to a determinative past and an eternal present. I am getting tired of determinists singing “que sera, sera” and I am equally tired of those who go on about life in terms of an afterlife when they die, a kind of eternal present. This is not what it is about. It is about a new creation in this world, a new future for the world. I have no interest whatsoever in being saved for a heavenly life. I have an enormous interest in the God of the future who calls us to fullness of life with each of us making our contribution to that end. Paul Tillich puts it very clearly when he says “Faith is being apprehended by the future” and I love his words that “One can never grasp it. But one can be grasped by it”. He gives voice to the Abrahamic faith of going out not knowing where he was going but trusting the God of the future, being guided by the pillar of fire. To take the symbolism literally is to miss the point. So it is with the resurrection.
Crucifixion is a continuing event in our lives and so, thank God, is resurrection.