I need to share a secret burden I have been carrying for too long. It is a little embarrassing and will require your strictest confidentiality.
I have an Easter dance.
Yep, every Easter Sunday since I began vocational ministry, I have boogied my way through the house and church as I prepare for Easter services. To be sure, it is a choreography full of awkward gangly gyrations where I lift my knees high as I spin in circles while my arms wiggle about in cabbage-patch fashion. Sometimes I even sing songs of resurrection—off-key and offbeat, of course. It is not graceful. The select few who have witnessed the dervish do their best to stifle giggles while shaking their heads with what I can only assume is bemused wonderment.
Easter dancing does not just happen. You cannot go about business as usual, then wake up Easter Sunday ready to dance. For one who spends most of his life in the good Midwestern emotional middle, it requires lots of preparation for me to have the emotional and spiritual vulnerability necessary to channel this level of enthusiasm. Easter dancing is a crescendo, not an exercise in spontaneity.
That is why it is so important for me to engage in the spiritual disciplines and wrestle with the biblical narrative during the season of Lent and its culminating Holy Week. Lent is like preparing the soil and planting seeds in a garden in anticipation that something will grow later. The three disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting, and charity (almsgiving) are not goals or accomplishments in and of themselves—they are limits and habits of discipleship that prepare us for what God can and will do through us. They help refocus our attention away from distractions and onto the active presence of the Trinity at work in the world. They prepare us for resurrection!
We need time to prepare for the power of resurrection, because resurrection is the first fruit of a new creation. To wrap our minds around the hope of resurrection, we must first honestly identify our reality. We need time to ruminate on the chaotic cacophony of war, an ongoing pandemic, political and social polarization, and economic uncertainty—all of which cause fear and anxiety. We have little control over these geopolitical events, and they do not even account for most of our daily struggles, which are much more personal and painful: wondering how to maintain peace with a coworker, pay overdue credit cards, handle a surprise diagnosis or a sudden layoff, nurture and love a child through questions of sexual and gender identity, repair a car or house, or determine if now is the time to change careers or zip codes.
Easter dancing requires us first to spend time confessing sin, lamenting the ramifications of injustice, and reframing our perspectives by acknowledging we are not the center of the universe. When practiced well, Lent and Holy Week can help strip away the lesser stories in our world that are shaped by our fears, pain, and unhealthy desires that cause us to curve in on ourselves.
We need the hope of resurrection because resurrection is the first step in making things right.Easter dancing does not just happen. You cannot go about business as usual, then wake up Easter Sunday ready to dance. For one who spends most of his life in the good Midwestern emotional middle, it requires lots of preparation for me to have the emotional and spiritual vulnerability necessary to channel this level of enthusiasm. Easter dancing is a crescendo, not an exercise in spontaneity.Like so very much else about the Christian journey of walking with Jesus, getting a grip on resurrection is a meandering road with lots of stops along the way. Jesus, like the prophets of old, always begins with reality. Jesus is no utopian-minded ethereal philosopher. Jesus knows the world. And he loves it so much, he was willing to be killed to redeem it. Yet he overcame all through resurrection.
Jesus knows violence and war and all their effects. He also knows how to usher in true peace. He knows what it is to hunger and thirst for justice. Jesus also knows how to achieve true justice. He knows disease and malnutrition and frailty. Jesus gives sight to the blind, causes the lame to walk, and makes the deaf to hear. He knows what it is to be a prisoner and a captive. Jesus is the path to true freedom.
Jesus’ resurrection is the first day of a new creation that is in the process of making all things right.
Resurrection contains elements of a future hope. We long for the day when our bodies are raised to life to participate in the new heavens and the new earth.
But the power of resurrection is also available in our present life, even in the midst of suffering and chaos. That is the hope of the Bible, especially the New Testament. Our bodies, our systems, and even creation itself are being transformed even now (Philippians 3; 1 Thessalonians 4; 1 Corinthians 15). The hope of resurrection is that everything in creation is being energized, empowered, and given life anew by the living presence of a resurrected Messiah (Romans 6:1–11; Colossians 1). Therefore, those who live in the Messiah (Romans 9–10), in the interval between his resurrection and ours, must resist the old ways that lead to death—a death that has thoroughly been defeated by the resurrection of Jesus (Romans 8). That is why actions rooted in love, joy, peace, patience, justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, and humility matter. They are signs that resurrection is working in and through us.
As N. T. Wright and Michael Bird share in “The New Testament in Its World,” resurrection proclaims Jesus as the world’s true Sovereign, who claims absolute allegiance from everyone and everything within creation. Resurrection forces us to put our hope in a God who raises the dead and summons us to a life of discipleship and mission of embodying Jesus’ kingdom praxis, being part of a covenant family called the church, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Resurrection makes bold claims on how the world really works. This world has been decisively and forever reclaimed by resurrection as the beginning of a new creation that Christians are committed to living, and if necessary, dying for. Nothing less is demanded by the God of creation, the God of justice, the God revealed in and as the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth.[i]
Resurrection is news too good to be true, but it is also news so good it must be true.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
That is something worthy of our most exuberant dance moves.
[i] N.T. Wright and Michael Bird, “The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians” (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), 330–31.