Believing in the Resurrection

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God. Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.”

― Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World

In 1970, I was introduced to the theology of Jurgen Moltmann through his dynamic book entitled Theology of Hope: A Contemporary Christian Eschatology. Moltmann grew up in a secular German home and was drafted into the Nazi war machine as a teenager. He surrendered to the Allies and was a prisoner of war in Scotland and England for three years. An American chaplain gave him a copy of the New Testament and the Psalms. That gift inspired the career of one of today’s greatest theologians.

As Moltmann became aware of the atrocities of the Nazi regime and the devastation of Germany and the rest of the world because of the inhumanity of World War II, he became convinced that the Christian faith and the world itself could not survive without hope. His first major book was entitled Theology of Hope. He began the “theology of hope” movement which has greatly impacted contemporary theology. Although Moltmann assumes the historical resurrection of Jesus and its implications for the “future” of all creation, his eschatology never contained a “pie in the sky” focus. All his theology is Christ-centered and grounded in the infinite, unconditional, and transforming love of God. His second great book, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, focused on God’s solidarity with all creation. especially the poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised in our world. His theology has perhaps had the greatest influence on my own understanding of God, creation, ethics, and eschatology. The quote above illustrates his insistence on a down-to-earth, relevant, and radical understanding and embracing of the truth of Easter.

The Easter narratives found in the Gospels have a most interesting character. Elsewhere in the New Testament, whenever the resurrection of Jesus is mentioned, we usually find some reference to what his resurrection means for our postmortal existence. We shall be raised to glory just like Jesus was.  I Corinthians 15 and Romans 8, the great resurrection chapters of Paul, insist that our hope beyond death is dependent on and defined by Jesus’ own resurrection. 

However, in the Easter stories of the Gospels, we find not a single word regarding our own life beyond death. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I trust that we and all creation will be resurrected by God and that Jesus is “the first fruits” of a cosmic resurrection. My point is that in the four Gospels, the emphasis is not on our “life after death.” That part of the Christian faith is not even mentioned. What we find is the shock of unexpected hope and the confrontation of the disciples with a Risen Lord who commissions them to live his life in their own time and space. (See my blog article entitled Mark 16:1-8 “Threatened with Resurrection.”) We are not invited to anesthetize ourselves with “pie in the sky” speculations about escaping this world and its suffering. Instead, we are commanded to live the hope secured by Jesus’ resurrection in this very world God so loves and is tirelessly working for its healing and transformation. That hope gives us “energy for a rebirth of this life.” Such hope focuses on the world’s redemption in the here and now. 

Hope is faith on tiptoes which seeks to flesh out God’s dreams for creation and for each precious life on this earth. Authentic hope results in tangible efforts to mend all the broken places and hearts in the world as we find it. Whatever is beyond this life (and we have good hope for that “future”) is in God’s hands, not ours. What is in our hands is the world we now live in. And because we co-create with God in this world, we are called to join Christ in “raising it to new life” in contemporary time and space. That’s why I am so fond of these words from the late Brazilian poet, philosopher, and sociologist Rubem Alves: “Hope is hearing the melody of the future; faith is to dance it.” In Jesus’ resurrection we hear the melody of the future. We trust that the world ends in the arms of God and is destined for healing and joy. We hear what much of the world cannot or will not hear. But if we have truly heard that melody, we will “dance” to its tune with every breath God gives us. Not to dance to God’s healing choreography is a denial of resurrection faith regardless of what we claim to believe. We are called to dance upon the graves of death, injustice, oppression, and despair as we love this world into its healing through acts of justice, compassion, and solidarity with God’s wounded and beloved creation. The “future” is secure. Christ’s resurrection assures us of that hope. It’s the present which needs to be resurrected to new life. We are privileged to be a part of that Easter transformation right now.

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