This Easter, as they have for nearly 2,000 years, Christians will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the tomb. But what difference does it make that Jesus rose from the dead? Why is his bodily resurrection important?
As the apostle Paul observes, Jesus Christ’s resurrection is pivotal for our faith, nourishing hope for the future and giving meaning to our embodied life today.
In response to those who deny the resurrection of the dead, Paul argues that the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of the dead stand or fall together. Denial of one entails denial of the other. And affirming one entails affirming the other. Speaking of Jesus’ resurrection as the cornerstone of Christianity, Paul adds that if Christ were not raised from the dead, Christian faith would be futile and believers would still be under sin’s dominion (1 Cor. 15:12-17). Those who sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” affirm a central reality of the Christian faith.
Christ’s resurrection from the dead, as the firstfruits of the final resurrection, nourishes Christian hope. The resurrection of Christ—God’s “preview of coming attractions”—grounds our hope that those who die “in Christ” do not simply perish but await a coming resurrection (1 Cor. 15:18-23).
When we find ourselves staring at a lifeless body in a casket or visiting a grave site or holding someone’s ashes in an urn, we confront the harsh realities of our fallen world. Given death’s tragic tearing of God’s good creation, our only hope for reunion with our loved ones rests on Christ’s resurrection. Only on the basis of the confession “The third day he rose again from the dead” do we have the courage to affirm, “I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”
Our comfort and hope lie in Christ’s mighty triumph over his foes—and ours—as he conquered death on Easter morning. Christ’s victory allows us to face death with sober confidence, awaiting the future resurrection of the body and union with him and with all who are united with him.
Christ’s bodily resurrection not only grounds our hope for the future but gives meaning to our embodied life today. Christ did not assume our flesh once, only to abandon it after his death. Rather, through his bodily resurrection he both affirms the goodness of the original creation, including our bodies, and points to a future in which we enjoy the goodness of embodied life as God intended it.
As to the nature of resurrected bodies, Paul offers an analogy: the body we have today is to our resurrected body as a seed is to the plant that grows from it (1 Cor. 15:35-46). We are like acorns that will grow into oaks at the final resurrection. Although our resurrected bodies will be glorious beyond anything we have yet seen, still they will be rooted in the bodies we have now. Our human anatomy, with its marvels and intricate design, gives just a glimpse into the glory to come. Moreover, our constant fight against disease, decline, and death in this life will give way to embodied life with God and with others that will suffer no decay or destruction.
Christians celebrate Easter, then, because only in the light of Christ’s bodily resurrection can we face both life and death with purpose and hope.