A Preparation for Easter SundayBy Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca) Kingston, Ontario, February 2007
Until Jesus’ resurrection on the first Easter Sunday, death was viewed as a descent into a place which the Jews called sheol. It was a state of soul sleep. Some of the Psalms and Prophetic writings expressed faith in a resurrection some day from that gloomy place (Psalms 17:15; 49:12-16; Daniel 12:2). And on occasion some of the dead were able to communicate with the living (1 Samuel 28:8-14; Matthew 17:3-4).
But when he died, the first thing Jesus did was to descend into sheol and free all the dead who were lying there (John 5:28-29; 1 Peter 3:18,19). While his corpse was still hanging on the cross "many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection, they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many" (Matthew 27:52-53). To make this absolutely clear forever, he appeared and ate and talked with his disciples the next seven weeks. He did this usually on a Sunday, which became known as the Lord’s day of resurrection. And this is what we celebrate every year at Easter.
For all humans and animals, life begins with the first breath, and ends with the last breath. This is why, to become fully human, Jesus took his first human breath as he came out of Mary’s womb. And he gave up his last breath on the cross.
Easter celebrates the fact that death is not the end, but a beginning. We fear death, and we mourn those who die, but from God’s point of view, there is nothing sad about death. The Son of God designed it as means for closing off our life on earth so we can begin to enjoy the glory that he has in mind. In another article on this site ("Caterpillar Theology") we see how caterpillars go into their cocoon and die, but they are resurrected to the freedom of butterflies.
Jews, Muslims, and many Christians imagine that at death we go into the grave and stay there awaiting the final resurrection and day of judgment. But those who understand how the first Easter redefined death, are assured that with their last breath the Son of God comes for them, and they immediately receive the resurrection body suited for heaven. As Paul explained, "we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." This means that the earthly body, which is destroyed or slowly decomposed at death, is irrelevant. What counts is the resurrection body which is already enjoying the wonders of heaven.