Easter represents many things: hope, happy endings, and new life, all of which is underscored by the fact that Easter occurs in the spring when we think of the grey of winter changing to sunshine and new plants blooming (well….most of the country thinks of spring that way, though here in Seattle we have a few more months of cold and grey). While all of these things are a part of Easter, it is not necessarily how early Christians would have thought of it. At its core Easter is about transformation. It’s about one thing becoming another. It’s about this world and all that it contains being transformed from what they are as a result of the fall to what God always intended them to be.
By the first century, Jewish people were not only eagerly expecting the long hoped for Messiah who would deliver them from the crushing grip of Rome, but many had also come to expect that God one day would remake this world into something new; that just as he created the world he would one day re-create the world. For first century Christians, therefore, Jesus’ resurrection meant more than hope and new life. It was the signal that God had begun to transform all things. Jesus’ resurrection was the first, but not even close to the last, example of that. Easter is not just an event in history. It is THE event in history. It is the first day of the new creation. Genesis 2.0. Just as God created the heavens and the earth in Genesis 1, on Easter he begins the process again to make a new creation – to remake this earth into what he intended it to be in the beginning.
Because of that, the New Testament doesn’t speak so much of us going to heaven as it does about heaven coming to us: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:1-2). It is an image of heaven coming here so that, as Jesus said, it will be “on earth as it is in heaven”. He meant that literally. Jesus’ project is to transform our world, our relationships, the environment, systems of injustice, poverty, racism, and eventually even our bodies into the eternal, heavenly things they were always meant to be. That project will not be complete until he returns, but he began that transformation on Easter and will carry it through until earth and heaven
are one. Heaven, therefore, is not clouds and harps and disembodied souls floating around. It is real, material, solid. After his resurrection Jesus could walk through walls. We think that’s because he was some kind of spirit, but physics would say otherwise. The way you can walk through something is if you are denser than that thing. Jesus could walk through walls because his transformed heavenly body was more solid, more real than his earthly one had been. This earth is the flimsy ethereal one. God’s new earth is more real – this earth transformed into what God always intended it to be. As the biblical scholar NT Wright says: “Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.”
What all of that means is that we can live the eternal kind of life here and now, and that nothing is beyond God’s transforming power. What needs to be transformed in your life? What things need to be transformed in our world? Easter shows that nothing and nobody is beyond God’s reach. If God can take the dead, earthly body of Jesus that had already begun to decay in the tomb and transform it into a new, heavenly body that is more real than the one he had, then God can transform anything.
So yes, Easter is about hope and new life, but even more, it is about the complete transformation of all things. The hope Easter gives us is not just a generalized hope that things will work out, that there will be a happy ending that, as Julian of Norwich said, “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Even more than that, all things will be made brand new, transformed from death to life, from broken to better than before. Not just some day in the sweet by and by, not just then and there, but also here and now.