While the lilies may have wilted and the chocolate bunnies have, ahem, disappeared, the celebration of Easter doesn’t end with Easter. The implications of the resurrection of the Son of God are far-reaching, touching on every aspect of human living and careening the universe in a stunning new direction — that of the new creation in which the Father reigns through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. The world has an everlasting King — Jesus Christ. Just as the grave could not hold the Lord of Life, neither could the calendar contain Easter to just one Sunday.
In fact, the Church calendar refuses to allow us to simply move on. The “weeks of Easter” (not after Easter) continue through seven Sundays, all the way to Pentecost. Easter culminates in Pentecost, which itself is an inevitable consequence of Jesus’ propitiatory achievement and post-mortem vindication. During this season, scores of lectionary texts set forth the manifold reverberations of Jesus’ resurrection.
But even that would be too little an attribution to Easter: every Sunday re-presents Good Friday and Easter, as a renewed humanity (i.e., the baptized) feasts on the sacrificial Lamb’s resurrected body and blood. Every Sunday, we are confronted by the font and Holy Absolution to bring us back to Holy Baptism, through which we were united to Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom 6:3-11). So there’s a sense in which, yeah, even though Easter is over in terms of the anniversary of the resurrection of the Son of God, notwithstanding, Easter continues throughout the season, the year, all of life, and all of time. Christians are called to bask in that glow, nay, bask in that glory every day of their lives.
The New Testament Epistles plumb a host of the resurrection’s implications, especially for Christians as they consider how to live in the present and what’s in store for the future. Conventional thinking turns upside down in light of the resurrection. It isn’t business as usual anymore. Death has been defeated, and the Holy Spirit is being poured out on the baptized, with the result being not only justification for those who otherwise are rightly condemned but also life in the Spirit — a new ethic, a new way of being human. It turns out, then, that resurrection life defines both dimensions of time for the Christian, with the expectation that we live like the future of resurrected humanity in the here and now.
N. T. Wright notes that the ancient Jews believed that world history was divided into two periods, or “ages:” There was “the present age,” which was full of misery and suffering, injustice and oppression; and there was “the age to come,” the time when God would effect justice upon the forces enslaving the world and put everything right, and would in particular rescue his people. (Wright, Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah, 130). “Age” is the preferred translation because it references the “new age,” that is, the “age to come” — the age of the kingdom, about which Christ and, later, Paul and John proclaimed. It’s a future referent, not fully present but nevertheless present in part and by degrees right now.
The important point is that with the resurrection of Jesus the Son, “God has provided an advance display of this future! God has kept the age to come under wraps, as it were, waiting to reveal it at the right time” (Early Christian Letters, 130). The announcement circulating among the earliest Christians was that age had dawned at the point of the resurrection of Christ. And here is the astonishing part: it happened here on Earth, in the midst of the time dimension in which we live. Heaven and Earth overlap in resurrection life, and that life now spills out of the baptismal font into the lives of the baptized. The future of humanity was being melded to the present in and through Holy Baptism, where resurrection life was being dispensed. Resurrection life wasn’t merely a quantity of time (i.e., the forever and ever and ever kind-of-life) but a quality of existence — the divine life!
Resurrection life, into which sinners are baptized, is — in addition to the death of Christ — the sharing in the life of The Resurrected One in the here and now. As Wright says, “This is life as it was meant to be, life in its full, vibrant meaning, a life which death tried to corrupt, thwart, and kill but a life which had overcome sin and death itself and was now on offer to anyone who wanted it. Life itself had come to life, had taken the form of a human being, coming into the present from God’s future, coming to display God’s coming age. And the name of that life-in-person is, of course, Jesus” (Early Christian Letters, 130-131).
The combination of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection means that the present is transformed forever. Each moment for the Christian is the present now. When, then, is the time to live by faith in the Son of God, whose resurrection life abides in the baptized? The answer is, now. For what is true of the resurrected Messiah holds true for those united to him. There is a shared life for those in Christ Jesus — the fruit and potential of being resurrected people (at least in spirit) in the here and now. Such a life is a life of faith thoroughly conditioned by God’s grace.
With this, in fact, being the case, the ethical implications are enormous. Christians are driven by different motives and an altogether different spirit than the unregenerate world. “Do not be surprised, brothers,” writes St. John, “if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). One should not be dismayed at such a posture because the Christian abides in a kingdom in which its values and offerings stand in juxtaposition to those of the world: love opposed by hate; life countermanded by death; light contrasted by darkness.
“We know,” St. John says, “that we have passed from death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14). The baptized are characterized by the Spirit of God, that is, the Spirit of love, for God is love. What characterizes resurrection life abiding in a person is simply, but profoundly, divine love.
Holy Baptism proves to be the great equalizer by exploding all demographic divisions and making one family of all peoples. The impetus for unity and tolerance isn’t the law or fearful compulsion, but rather the Spirit of love given and gifted to the regenerate. Such a spirit manifests itself quite practically — by loving one another. The laws of the land can’t produce this, but resurrection life can and does.
St. Peter looks upon the regenerating-resurrecting work of Christ upon his people and concludes: “You are a chosen race” (1 Peter 2:9). Chosen, specifically, to join the throng in the great exodus movement out of bondage to sinful selfishness and inordinate self-love and captivity to today’s stifling philosophies and blinding ideologies that divide, dehumanize, denominate. You’ve been chosen to come out of the darkness and into this marvelous light, the light of the resurrection: a people who constitute an exodus from racism, sexism, elitism, classism and now participate in a new race of human beings who are, through baptism, the foundational cure for the evils of these things in human society. We recognize no race. No wealth. No class. No status. No demographic. Political parties don’t have our allegiance. We have a King. We have brothers and sisters. Leave the darkness of division and haughty and judgmental partisanship and enter a world in which we see human beings through their being shrouded by a vail of Holy Baptism, notwithstanding their wallet or waistline, pigmentation or place. Such a disposition is a consequence of sharing in Christ’s resurrection life and love.
Resurrection life thus yields first of all faith in Christ. But it is a faith that loves, for it is of the Spirit of Christ — that is, it is of the One who is the love of God toward us and toward the brothers.
Every soul baptized into Christ Jesus is thus called, post-Easter, to strive for the new life by the Spirit, resulting in a radically new morality — the ethic of Christ’s kingdom. That’s the new normal. The old way (even when repackaged in volatile contemporary jargon and categories), it’s lords and longings, is the monstrosity. It’s really that simple. You have to own the fact that your spirit was resurrected in baptism in a way akin to Christ’s bodily resurrection. You are a new creation. Think newly. Behave in accordance with your renewal. You have been redeemed, ransomed. The old lord, the old captivity has no claim on you. Live, therefore, in light of the fact that Christ isn’t still dead and neither is your spirit. Both have been resurrected: Christ from the grave; your spirit from the font.
The Christian who has been born of the water and the Spirit must live as a child of God. Since the child shares in the character and name of the Father, the Christian life is to conform to God the Father’s moral standard. But the good news goes further—we don’t have to do it on our own strength; we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, the power of love, obedience, truth and holiness. That’s another glorious consequence of Easter. And there is more: when and where we fail along every step of the way, the Lord has provided the grace of forgiveness, the reminder of the Gospel, the refreshment of Holy Communion, the comfort of Holy Absolution. That’s the glorious consequence of Good Friday. To continue to live in one’s former ways implicitly denies the value of Christ’s death, indeed, the power of his resurrection, and the reality to which you have been restored. Remember your baptism because it comes with living in the power and light and truth of the gospel. And it is what gives us security, hope, meaning, endurance, comfort. It says to us, see, just as God said, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus. Now get on with being people of the resurrection.
What matters now is to keep our eyes fixed on the one who has redeemed us, sanctified us, and already begun to put us to new use in accord with the kingdom’s ethic and purposes. That’s what it means for the baptized to believe in “the God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory,” placing him in authority over all things and, further, for us to have “faith and hope in God,” as St. Peter says in his first epistle. Thus, the new life Christ opened for us in his resurrection, the new life into which we were baptized, is a life of faith.
Truth be told, Easter isn’t over. It’s just the beginning of what’s next.