Resurrection power

Another Lenten season, another Easter has come and gone. Over time, the family traditions we used to celebrate at Easter have fallen away, too. Our kids have long since grown up, so there hasn’t been an Easter egg hunt and Scripture reading for the neighborhood kids for decades (though we’re helping revive this for our granddaughter). My parents have died and most of the rest of the family has moved away, so there’s no more extended family Easter dinner either.

But it’s not as if resurrection is something to be remembered once a year, period. Every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper, we actively remember his death, and with it, his resurrection. Every time someone is submerged in the waters of baptism, we remember the symbolism of being buried and raised with Jesus (Rom 6:1-4).

Moreover, to the apostle Paul resurrection is a past, present, and future reality that should frame the whole of a believer’s existence. Here again are his words from his letter to the Philippians:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11, NIV)

For Paul, Jesus is everything. As we’ve seen, whatever bragging rights he once had as an exemplary Pharisee have been swallowed up in his gratitude for a relationship with his Lord. He wants his life to conform to the life of Jesus, to be shaped by the cross whether it means martyrdom or not. But Paul doesn’t have a death wish. Let’s say instead that he has a “life wish,” a desire for his entire existence to be suffused with resurrection life.

I’ve said repeatedly that Paul thinks eschatologically — in other words, as he looks at the ups and downs of his present life, he sees them in terms of God’s future promises. The resurrection of Jesus is a past event that makes possible and points forward to his own resurrection in the future. And in between? The power of Jesus’ resurrection is a present reality, the empowerment he needs to stay the course in the midst of suffering.

Nowhere is this clearer, I think, than in Romans 6:

But if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all, but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal bodies, so that you obey their desires. (Rom 6:8-12)

The resurrection isn’t only about what happens after we die. It’s about being “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” It’s the empowerment to stop letting sin have its way in our lives. Or, as Paul puts it a few verses earlier, it’s the power to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). That newness of life in the present is a sign both of the resurrection of Jesus in the past and of our resurrection to come.

Again, this doesn’t need to take on heroic dimensions. For some of the Philippians, it meant not arguing amongst themselves with selfish motives. Think about what that could mean for us. Following Jesus might mean not insisting on having our way, or being right, or proving others wrong. It might mean setting aside what we want long enough to really understand what someone else needs, and responding with humility and compassion.

Such things are “hard” to do because we’re not used to them. It can be a relatively simple matter to make a good decision in any given moment, but it’s harder to keep that commitment going. Perhaps that’s why Paul tells the story of Jesus as he does: once Jesus made the humble decision to empty himself, he obeyed the Father all the way — even to the point of death on a cross (Phil 2:5-8).

And after death comes resurrection. After resurrection comes exaltation and glory.

The bad news — if we can call it that — is that growing in the Christian life means learning to do hard things. But the good news is that we’re not left to our own resources. Paul seems to think that we have the very power of the resurrection of Jesus at our disposal, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. We have the power to do what we know God wants us to do.

We have the power to make every day Easter day.

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