By Audrey Stallsmith
A scene from a Jesus movie that I saw years ago continues to stick with me. One of the characters, viewing the empty tomb, says something like, "Well, that’s the end of that." And another replies, "No, it isn’t. It’s just the beginning."
If I remember correctly, the latter character was one of those opposed to Jesus. So he spoke in a tone of resignation. But Christ’s followers can say the same thing with jubilance. Back when I was teaching a teenage Sunday school class, I always loved the Easter lesson. "This is it!" I would tell the kids. "This is what our faith is all about."
Granted, a few in the Church speak of the resurrection as a "glorious myth." But I am puzzled as to why those unbelievers even bother to call themselves Christians. I can see no point in serving a dead person.
Many good men have been martyrs, after all. And, though they can inspire us, they can’t begin to save us. As Paul put it, quite succinctly, in I Corinthians 15:17 & 19 "And if Christ be not raised your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. . .If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."
Those who don’t accept resurrection--for Christ or themselves--don’t have much of a message for a suffering world either. As J. B. Phillips put it in God Our Contemporary, "Since they believe there is no life beyond this one, the humanists can offer no hope to the severely handicapped." Or, I might add, to the millions for whom this earthly existence is a constant struggle against poverty, persecution, and disease.
Perhaps some people can’t accept the resurrection because they see it as a form of cheating--a ribbon tacked on to the crucifixion story to provide the preferred happy ending.
But, since God is the source of all life, life is inevitable wherever He is. So, when He came into direct contact with death, there was only one possible result. "It was not Christ who died on the Cross," Fulton J. Sheen writes in On Being Human. "It was death that died." The resurrection, rather than being an afterthought, is the climax of the whole story.
"Life is the only reality," George MacDonald asserts in Creation in Christ. "What men call death is but a shadow. . .Nothingness owes its very idea to existence."
Most Christian writers agree that this world is only a preface to or the "boot camp" that comes before real life. "Justice will be fully vindicated," Phillips writes in Your God Is Too Small, "when the curtain falls on this present stage, the house-lights go on, and we go out into the Real World."
We don’t have to wait until our own deaths to taste eternal life either. That victory has already been won. Talking about Christian Life and the Unconscious, Ernest White describes the new birth as "the implantation of Divine life, or eternal life, in the spirit of man." Of course, that birth does begin with a type of death, a yielding up of one’s own spirit into the Father’s hands.
In Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, Soren Kierkegaard points out that "immortality cannot be a final alteration that crept in, so to speak, at the moment of death as the final stage. On the contrary, it is a changelessness that is not altered by the passage of the years." So eternal life begins for us as soon as we return to the source of it.
It is waking from a long confused dream to vivid morning. It is, in Frederick Buechner’s words, "seeing the tiger," or "getting the joke." Or, in Chesterton’s favorite metaphor, it is returning to a home you’re finally seeing clearly for the first time. "What will not God achieve," he wrote in one of his poems, "if man awake, since a rock-tomb was rended for our sake?"