Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Easter Hope

In a recent book, The Eyes of the Heart, Frederick Buechner recounts the last conversation he ever had with his younger brother, Jamie, before the latter succumbed to cancer. They said goodbye on the telephone, each knowing it would be their last conversation, and as they were about to hang up, Buechner said to his brother: “I have a feeling we’ve not seen the last of each other.”

Our contemporary culture (both secular and religious) tends to deal with death through denial (flowers, embalming, “They’re not really dead if we keep them alive in our hearts”). Christians, however, don’t deny death; they defy it! In the face of the final foe, Christians dare to hope that “we’ve not seen the last of each other,” and that even when it comes to death, God gets the last word.

In the church year the time between Easter and Pentecost is known as Eastertide, a time when Christians reflect on the resurrection, Christ's and ours. "We've not seen the last of each other." When Christians say "Easter" that's what we mean. We Christians do not believe that some divine “spark” in Jesus was insulated from the destructive powers of death and thereby spared the ravages of mortality (the common pagan notion). Rather, we believe that Jesus died (If you ever doubted that before, Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ should have convinced you), and God brought him back again! That’s the Christian hope; not that “some things never really die,” but that God brings dead things back to life again.

And what is the image of hope in the Bible? A desert. And in the desert a stump, just a dead old stump of a tree. And from out of the side of the stump comes one little green shoot. And the word goes out: “The shoot from the stump of Jesse will save the world.”

“I have a feeling that we’ve not seen the last of each other,” he said. Some might call that wishful thinking. I call it hope, Christian hope, Easter hope, the kind of hope that believes in a God Who brings dead things to life again. The kind of hope that can see you through whatever dust and debris and death has settled over your soul right now. The kind of hope that comes only from “God knows where.”


Idell said...

It seems that in a lot of Christian communities, that hope gets watered down. When someone dies, we speak of him being in “heaven” or a “a better place.” The preacher may speak of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, but that powerful word “resurrection” is often missing in reference to the person who has just died. Despite all our talk of believing in eternal life, we act like the person ceased to exist simply because he or she died. Unlike Roman Catholics, for example, we stop praying for them, and instead simply pray for the “consolation of the family.” But why? If death is not the final word for the Christian, then the dead have not ceased to exist--their circumstances have merely changed, and they can still benefit from the prayers of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Besides, I’m willing to bet that those who have died have not quit praying for us, and I’m guessing they may even pray better now that they have fewer distractions!

R. Wayne Stacy said...

Thanks for your insights; they're, well...insightful, as usual.

I'm continually amazed at how easily professing Christians can, with commitment and passion, hold to thoroughly pagan notions without even the slightest awareness that their most cherished beliefs are pagan rather than Christian, and have no basis in biblical faith. I think some of it is the result of the ubiquitous anti-intellectualism so prevalent in the contemporary church that regards all thinking about faith not only as unnecessary, but an act of unbelief. The complete lack of understanding of the NT teaching on resurrection is but one example.