As we all know, the much-predicted Rapture didn’t happen yesterday. Or it did happen but we were all so bad we were left behind. Or the Kingdom of God has actually already come, but no one was excluded, so we didn’t notice.
This last possibility sounds to me closest to the teachings of Jesus. Wasn’t he always saying that the Kingdom of God is within us? And, as N.T. Wright notes in his many writings on the Resurrection, this miracle was taken by the first Christians not only as proof of personal immortality, but more importantly as a sign that Christ was the Messiah and the new age had begun.
Now, it may not look that way, because suffering and injustice haven’t disappeared yet. What has changed, in light of the Resurrection, is how we may confidently respond to them. This article from religion professor Eric Reitan’s blog explains why. It’s worth reading in full, but “fair use” requires that I only quote a portion, so don’t stop here.
…Taken in relation to the cross, the empty tomb has further meanings. It declares that what is conceived from a terrestrial standpoint as ultimate and total defeat, as final humiliation, is none of these things from the divine standpoint (and hence from the most complete, enveloping, and hence truest standpoint). Crucifixion, after all, was not merely a means of killing that involved intense physical suffering before death. It was also a graphic means of intimidation and a tool of public degradation. Human beings were treated worse than things—not merely as something to be used, but as objects of contempt. The purpose of crucifixion was to express towards a human being the very antithesis of respect.
To have the power to crucify another human being was to have the power to take away their lives in a manner that first stripped them of everything that gives life any value. And it was, at the same time, an act of triumphantly crowing over one’s victim—displaying for all the world to see just how helpless, just how disgraced, one could make another human being (before ultimately turning them into a thing in truth, that is, a corpse).
The empty tomb symbolically represents what such efforts at mortification achieve from God’s ultimate standpoint. We might express it as follows: “Look into the tomb and you begin to see what you’ve accomplished by such exercises of power. The tomb is not merely empty. It has been emptied. In the place of a corpse there is new life, eternal and incorruptible.” The empty tomb erases the pretentions of coercive power to define human worth. It declares that the use of force to degrade and destroy is less than impotent. It has become the means whereby the intended victim has been exalted, whereby the target for destruction has been made indestructible.
Like many of us, I’m not nearly close enough to living that way. Yesterday, thousands of people were happily anticipating the end times. Without sharing the superstitious aspects of their faith, or their comfort with the notion that some people will be forever excluded from God’s presence, I would like to have more of their settled hope for a future where God defeats death and makes all things right.
There’s no easy way to that goal. No shortcut but to live as if it were true, as Jesus told us to do. That includes forgiving people who have “degraded and destroyed” precious things in my life, because otherwise I am still granting them power that belongs to Jesus alone: the power to say who I am.