There is one truth in the glorious panoply that is the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) that is particularly special to me.
One that stands out as a shining beacon on the darkest of days, one that daily speaks to my heart and revives me in the truth. And it, dear friends, is this:
A man walked out of the back of death.
I have known the taste of death. The bitter ash of a brush with his cruel fingers has tarred my life. I am sure many, perhaps most, readers could say the same. And this I know with every fibre of my being: Death is a dragon, and he has lost.
When my prince was swallowed by death, he forgot Calvary’s cruel agonies and began to laugh, for in this act of base brutality, death was swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15). The executioner has been taught to be a gardener, tending the bodies of the dead awaiting the resurrection. The beast’s fangs have been pulled, and his fate sealed.
Everything that dies in Christ comes back to life. Have you reckoned with that truth? That those you love, and those you never met, will be waiting in the City? That as you set down your self-righteous burdens and run unhindered for the first time in your life towards that gate you will be met by those that have passed before and after you. And better—O, how much better!—you will be met by my friend, my love, my master: the high king of heaven, Jesus the Christ.
In his eyes that dance with laughter, the answer to the question of that great disciple, Samwise Gamgee, will be seen clearly. “Has everything sad come untrue?”
“Yes, beloved, it has.”
This is the beating heart of the Christian faith. Because we refused to wait to be given and instead took and took and took, the God who is gift entered our world of small, quiet, sadnesses and waited. He waited to be given—God gifted by God—and the Son chose the way of obedience to the Father at the foot of a tree, before being lifted up on another.
The living God died on our behalf: to take our sin, to unman the powers, to kill death, to wipe our filth, to become our shame, to show us love, and to rewrite Adam’s story. As he died, and the watching world held her breath, we were freed.
And then on Sunday morning, with Easter’s bright surprise, his burial place lay empty. In a garden, a bride met a gardener, and nothing was ever the same again. He had not returned to us, nothing so small, but instead walked out the other side of death, leaving a doorway in his wake. His motion, strong as it was because this man was also God himself, pure act, pulled every one who looked to him up by their chains to share in his new found life. Because this is God who is life, he does not simply possess it, so it is his to freely share with the triumph of captives he claimed as his victory spoils.
For the joy set before him he endured the cross (Hebrews 12).
What joy! You and me, friends, the church, are the joy that was set before him.
The way of Jesus is the way of resurrection. That’s the people that we are. Everything that dies in Christ comes alive. Hopes. Dreams. Failed godly intentions. Everything.
This is the principle that underlies the cosmos and always has: first death, then life. We live our lives captive to the truth that it is life then death’s sad sorrow. Then the resurrection makes that truth a lie. It is the other way around.
This is the pattern I see so often in my own life too. Jesus calls us to die to something, often sinful desires, sometimes a godly dream or ambition mixed up with pain of my sin. Death is painful, it always cuts deeply, leaving grooves of grief. Every time, by the power of his incorruptible life, he brings these laid down treasures out of the tomb. Every time, not as I expected. And, every time, the grooves of grief are made into groves of grace.
Friends, this is the core of the Christian faith.
There are days when it is unbelievable. Days when my face is in the dust and I cannot breathe but be clogged by the taint of it all. Those are the days to cling. Take your hands and fix them on this truth:
A man walked out the back of death. He is your older brother.
Cling there, despite how unbelievable it all seems, despite the noise that drowns out the chorus of heaven. Cling until your fingers bleed. Then, get up the next morning and cling again. Some days it’s all that gets me out of bed. Jesus, the king, is alive forever. He has not failed, and so he will not fail me. He will not fail you. Cling, dear one, if death is dead then a new story can be written.
If you can’t move forward then sit down, but sit down in the resurrection. Camp out there where the flowers bloom a hopeful scent you can’t quite catch. Remain there. As our Bible translations usually have it: abide there. That’s where the hope is.
Then when you’re ready, get up and start walking the Way again. When we abide with him, the resurrected Lord, he abides with us (1 John 2, 4). Which means the resurrection travels with you too, and plants a garden in your heart. A quiet one that you don’t notice, perhaps, until tragedy strikes again and a scent wraps you that you don’t recognise, until you hear a whisper in your ear:
“Far more can be mended than you know.”
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