Sunday, March 23, 2008

The First Day of God's New Week

Everybody in the ancient world knew that resurrection didn't happen. More: they knew it couldn't happen. They spoke of it, in the classical world of Greece and Rome, as something one might imagine but which never actually occurred, and never could or would. The Jews, though, began to believe that it would. Not all of them, mind; the Sadducees resolutely stuck out against it. And they weren't all clear exactly what it would mean, what it would be like. But they believed, as we saw in [John] 11:24, that when the resurrection happened it would happen to all God's people all at once. (Perhaps, even, to all people everywhere, as in [John] 5:28-29.) Not--this is the point--to one person in the middle of time. That would be an odd, outlandish event, unimagined, unheard-of.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lasarus returned to the present life. He came back again. The echoes of the Lazarus story in the present one are there partly to tell us that it was the same kind of event, but mostly to tell us that it wasn't. Lazarus needed someone to untie him from his cloths, and the napkin round his head. Jesus left his behind altogether. Lazarus came back into a world where death threats still mattered ([John] 12:10). Jesus had gone on, through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself had been defeated and life, sheer life, life in all its fullness could begin at last.

Ask people around the world what they think is the biggest day of the year for Christians. Most will say 'Christmas'. That's what our society has achieved; a romantic mid-winter festival (though we don't actually know what time of the year Jesus was born) from which most of the things that really matter (the danger, the politics) are carefully excluded. The true answer--and I wish the churches would find a way of making this clear-- is Easter. This is the moment of new creation. If it hadn't been for Easter, nobody would ever have dreamed of celebrating Christmas. This is the first day of God's new week. The darkness has gone, and the sun is shining.

From John for Everyone: Chapters 11-21 by Tom Wright


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