We closed our Good Friday meditation (below) by noting the pervasive darkness throughout Mark, climaxing in the three-hour darkness from noon to 3:00 as Jesus is crucified. But even as darkness deepens as Mark’s Gospel unfolds, a glimmer of hope gains strength that there will be a rising from death and darkness.
Why, after all, are there so many references to ‘rising’ (37), a higher proportion of references to ‘rising’ than all other three Gospels? Why use the language of ‘rising’ even when this language is unnecessary and even awkward? Why is the resurrection account so terse and cryptic in Mark? Because Mark has been preparing the reader for Jesus’ rising by quietly sprinkling in ‘rising’ language throughout.
And as Jesus rises, the ever-deepening darkness throughout Mark suddenly melts away. Light bursts onto the scene. ‘And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen . . .’ The sun had set in Mark 1:32. The sun rises in 16:2. Evening has given way to light. The world’s night has come to an end. Eden has dawned afresh.
And I ask myself: What was the resurrection? Beyond the apologetic significance of the resurrection, even beyond the soteriological significance of the resurrection (saving us, along with the cross) and the eschatological significance of it (launching the new creation)–what was the resurrection?
What is Easter, for those who are in Christ?
Easter is the promise of final in-breaking light to every pocket of darkness in our lives. Easter is the proven certainty of a sunrise on every self-inflicted sunset. Easter is the promise of reversal.
It is striking how closely the New Testament wishes to associate Christ’s resurrection and that of the believer, such as throughout 1 Corinthians 15. The two–his and ours–stand or fall together. Resurrection out of death and horror is not something we merely admire in him. It is something we will ourselves will be clothed in. And not just the bodily part of rising–though that is worth its own series of meditations. I have in mind the rising out of despair and dismay. The opening up of every dead-end in this life. The restoring of every soured relationship. The granting of every closed desire, the unlocking of every locked door.
Out of disillusionment, enthrallment. Out of cynicism, belief. Out of boredom, wonder. Out of death, life. ‘The desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus . . .’ (Isa. 35:1).
The doctrine of the resurrection is the promise that the universe will be rinsed clean and re-Edenized, from the farthest galaxy to my sad little life. And the cosmos itself knows that the most crucial part of final resurrection is not its own re-Edenizing but mine–the stars of heaven are on the edge of their seats to see the radiance of glorified sinners in whose resplendence their own dazzling light will be as darkness (Rom. 8:18-19).
But the resurrection says more. Not only that life will come out of death, calm out of pain. But, more deeply, that pain is somehow, strangely, generative of calm and life; descending now creates ascending then. For those united to a risen Christ, all our anguish now will double back over itself onto joy.
The doctrine of the resurrection is the shocking revelation that the deeper the darkness in my life now, the brighter the light in my life then. Sunset, sunrise.
We tend to think of the Christian life in three categories.
Category #1: things in our life that will finally prove to have spiritually advanced us (quiet times, witnessing, successfully resisting temptation, loving another, etc)
Category #2: things in our life that are ultimately spiritually neutral (eating breakfast, driving in your car, paying the bills, sleeping)
Category #3: things in our life that finally send us backwards (sinning, being sinned against, failing, hitting a dead-end, running out of energy, dashed hopes, aborted ambitions, rejection, being misunderstood)
The doctrine of the resurrection is: for those in Christ, there is no Category 2 or 3.
If Jesus was raised from the dead, then even the darkness in our lives is part of a mosaic that would finally be less beautiful without it. We are that invincible.
But of course I have been talking about this all the wrong way. I’ve been speaking of our future. And so it is. But the teaching of the New Testament says something more. This triumphant rising out of despair is not just for the future. It has washed into our present. The bodily resurrection is future. But the personal reality of our resurrection is present. We have been raised with Christ now (Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). We didn’t unite ourselves to Christ in the first place by our good. Therefore we can’t divorce ourselves from Christ now by our bad. The reversal has already begun.
And this Life that has washed over us here and now will come to inevitable final expression in our concrete existence with Jesus on the new earth, when every sadness and darkness will be folded back over onto itself. The old burdens will not only melt away but become wings by which we are able to fly higher than we would had we never suffered the burdens in the first place, as Lewis put it in The Great Divorce. Our present sadness is itself seeding and ensuring and nurturing radiance then.
Every pain of a cross here will become the glory of an empty tomb there. Or in Pauline categories, suffering now creates glory then (Rom. 8:17). Because Jesus walked out of the tomb.