We Always Live In The Resurrection

Lately, I’ve been reminded that even though Pascha has passed on the Church’s calendar, we continually live in the Reality of Christ’s resurrection. It’s easy for the deterioration, brokenness, and tragedy of our present world to eclipse the startling Truth that God’s New Heaven and Earth have been inaugurated into our time and space. But God’s mission to renew His Creation, launched at Jesus’ resurrection and deployed by Jesus’ people, is on track and moving forward. To cement the point, here’s St John Chrysostom Paschal homily to refocus our vision on what is truly Real:

“Let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”


And now with St John’s word still echoing, read St Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory… Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Heaven & Hell Are Not Places

“We are made whole (healed) by the grace of God, and brought into a relationship with Him that is our true inheritance. Heaven and hell are not places created by God for those who were good, or bad, but rather about relationship. The Fire of God is heaven for those who have responded to God’s love, and hell for those who have remained in the darkness of sin (sickness), and whose ego has shut out God, for self. Heaven and hell are not places, but all about relationship.” Abbot Tryphon

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth revisiting. Our culture’s understanding of heaven and hell is severely distorted. Too often, heaven and hell are viewed as future destinations either to reward the good or punish the bad.

However, as Fr Stephen Freeman is fond of saying, “Jesus did not come to make bad men good, but dead men alive.” What is at stake is the transformation of human nature, which is so fractured, distorted and sick that it’s dead. And in this dead state, we shut out God. That is hell. In our brokenness, we constantly live in hell.

So the issue isn’t ethics or morality. You can’t tell a corpse to behave better. The only hope is Resurrection. For the Resurrection is the inauguration of God’s Renewed Creation. And the power of the Resurrection brings life to all of us who are dead. This is the point of Ezekiel 37 and Jesus’ retelling of that vision in the Story of the Prodigal Son. The son wasn’t restored because he “got his act together” or because he apologized to the Father. He experienced Resurrection. He returned from exile and back into relationship with his father and his household.

When a person experiences the Resurrection, the process of transformation begins. And this is heaven. Heaven is being loved by God and being able to love him back, regardless of circumstance. Heaven is loving and living God’s will regardless of the pain or sacrifice one experiences. Heaven is being transformed into Christ’s likeness from the inside-out.

As Jesus hung upon the cross absorbing the world’s sin and evil upon himself, he was in heaven. In the midst of hell, he was in heaven.

So heaven and hell are descriptions primarily of our relationship with God. But are there future destinations of heaven and hell? I believe so. It’s called the New Creation. One day, God will renew his Creation. He will set all things right. Jesus’ prayer will fully be answered as heaven and earth finally overlap and God’s reign will be on earth (the human realm) as it is in heaven (God’s realm). And in the New Creation, God’s glory will cover the earth as the water covers the seas. This will be the ultimate and eternal experience of heaven and hell.

And on that day when God renews his Creation and drenches it with his undiminished glory, his very love and presence will be like an eternal inextinguishable lake of fire for those who shut him out. And that same love and presence will be indescribable joy for those who have been transformed into his likeness and live only for his will.

So heaven and hell begin now. Each of us is on that journey every day.

Resurrection of the Prodigal

The parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is one of my favorite parables. Not only does it contain levels of interpretation and application, but it depicts our Heavenly Father in such an intimate way. He is the Father who graciously concedes to his younger son’s outrageous request for his portion of the inheritance. And rather than holding a grudge against his son or even maintaining the cultural detachment of a patriarch, he sees his returning son from a distance, runs to greet him, and compassionately restores him.

I am moved virtually every time I reflect on this parable. It strikes a deep and unspoken place within me.

This parable has meant even more to me as I’ve come to realize that this is a resurrection passage. Twice the Father says, “For this son of mine/brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” You can almost hear the faint echoes of Ezekiel 37.

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet receives a vision of Israel’s return from exile. Israel is depicted as a valley of bones. God tells Ezekiel that he will open their graves and bring them back to the land of Israel (Ezek 37:12). This is the first primary image of resurrection in the Old Testament and it represents Israel’s return from exile. They were dead and are alive.

In the time of Jesus, while Israel had returned geographically to the land, they had not spiritually returned from their long exile. Through this parable, Jesus is putting an intimate face on Ezekiel 37. Israel is the younger son, dead and lost in exile. But by simply returning to the Father’s house, Israel meets the compassionate and intimate Father, who is quick to restore. They are resurrected, alive once again.

As a parable of salvation, the prodigal son enforces the fact that our “problem” is not a legal, moral or ethical breaking of some abstract code or law. In other words, the prodigal son didn’t do something wrong or bad and then needed to be expunged of the guilt of his crime. Rather, the son was dead. Life and hope were gone. An apology like he had planned would not solve the problem. He needed to be resurrected and restored.

And this resurrection takes place in relationship with the Father. The son simply hoped for a place as a servant in his Father’s house. But the life he needed was in the restored relationship with his Father. The Father states, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again.”

And the resurrectional relationship isn’t just a “God and me” thing. The Father tells the embittered elder son, “Everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” The older brother also has a role in the resurrection of his brother. Everything in the Father’s house belongs to the older brother. While he views the resources of the Father’s house as potential personal blessings, the Father implies something more in the statement “Everything I have is yours.” These resources should not only flow to the older brother, but through the older brother. The older brother should use these resources as the Father uses them. So the Father encourages him to celebrate and in so doing, the resources of restoration will flow to the younger brother. The Father is inviting the older son into the “ministry of reconciliation,” to practice resurrection and thus to be a blessing rather than expecting only to receive a blessing.

In other words, blessings are not intended to simply flow to a person but through a person to others.

But Jesus leaves the parable hanging. In some ways the fate of the older brother is more at stake than his younger sibling’s who is now alive and restored. And we realize that the older brother, despite never having left his Father’s house, is like Israel currently occupying the Land. He too is still in exile. He is also dead and in need of resurrection.

All Health Broke Loose

Sunday’s Gospel reading contained this passage from John 20, “‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'”

Shortly after Jesus inaugurated his Father’s New Creation by his resurrection, he commissioned his disciples to continue what he has started. Jesus instructs them to participate in the missio dei with, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” I truly believe this statement forms the core of any missional engagement. The New Creation is implemented by continuing Jesus’ incarnation of God’s Presence and Life into the world.

So that there is no mistake, Jesus summarizes the essential components of an incarnational mission. They must receive the Holy Spirit and they must forgive sins. They cannot engage in this daunting task solely relying on their own strength and strategies. Human participation in the missio dei requires Christ’s likeness and God’s divine energies. This is especially apparent when one reflects on what is involved in forgiving sins.

Jesus means far more than simply declaring to a person forgiven from personal sins. To Jesus’ contemporaries, the forgiveness of sins meant the return from exile. Based on their covenant with God, Israel’s sins had sent them into exile and it would be God’s forgiveness of their sins that would initiate their return. But Jesus offered more than a geographical relocation or deliverance from foreign rule. When Jesus offered the forgiveness of sin, he was offering a new world order from the desolation of death into the eschatological kingdom of God.

And that is our ongoing role in God’s mission. To borrow a phrase from my priest, “All health broke loose” at Jesus’ resurrection. I really like that. At the resurrection, the renewal of God’s creation is launched. As we are sent as Jesus was sent, as we forgive sins and offer the return from exile, as we embody God’s kingdom, all health should break loose in us and around us.

The Lenses Through Which I See

I read a beautiful Paschal reflection by Fr Ted Bobosh. His reflection reminded me of how God has shaped me to view life through a few crucial lenses.

First, salvation, as experienced personally, is the entire process of God rescuing me from sin and death and restoring me as his image-bearer. In other words, salvation is the actual process of being transformed into Christ’s likeness. As such, “forgiveness of sins” is the doorway to salvation, but not salvation itself. Forgiveness is a necessary aspect of a far larger process of renewal, restoration and transformation. Therefore, I don’t possess salvation. Rather, I’m on a journey of salvation, a journey toward becoming like Christ in his life and likeness.

Second, God is saving his entire creation. There is a global dimension to salvation. The promised New Creation is this creation renewed and overflowing with God’s glory. The New Creation was inaugurated at Jesus’ resurrection and God is actively restoring his creation, primarily through the renewal of creation’s stewards — the human race.

Third, Jesus’ very being and life saves us. God’s salvific activity cannot be pinpointed to just one event in Jesus’ life. All of the events save us. He saves us through his birth, his circumcision, his baptism, his ministry, his miracles, his teaching, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, his return, his ongoing kingship, and all the bits in between.

Fr Stephen Freeman summarizes nicely, “The Incarnation of Christ and the whole of His work – suffering, death, burial, descent among the dead, resurrection, ascension – serve the same singular purpose – to deliver all of creation (including humanity) from its bonds and establish it in the freedom for which it was created – manifest in Christ’s own resurrection.”

The convergence of these lenses bring the world into pin-sharp focus for me and have helped me to shed much of the delusion from my past.