From ancient myths to modern movies, death and resurrection is a compelling theme. The fact that Ishtar, Horus and Dionysus exist in pagan myth doesn’t make the resurrection of Christ less believable for me. It confirms a universal desire for life beyond the grave. I don’t find Easter’s association with pagan spring festivals particularly alarming either. Spring is universally the season for celebrating life, renewal and rebirth, the end result of Christ’s work of redemption. As human beings we are drawn to life and are, at best, ambivalent about death. Perhaps we are drawn to resurrection stories like the phoenix rising from the ashes because it is a variation on the theme of the true Resurrection story, the one God is always writing.
Four of the movies nominated for this year's Oscars dealt with the death of a family member. In The Descendants, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo and The Tree of Life, characters struggle with how to remain connected to a loved one who dies. Young boys Hugo and Oskar (Extremely Loud) engage in personal quests begun by their dead fathers. Each father has left a kind of legacy that binds his child to him. The family in the Descendants struggles with sin, loss and - again - legacy. The Tree of Life reunites its characters in an afterlife where each is restored to the “way of grace.” Anyone who has been separated from a loved one by death can relate to the idyllic scene where the family is reunited on that beach. It felt like a glimpse into eternity.
This past Christmas a young man named Ben Breedlove died in Austin, Texas, where I live. Ben had a vision or a dream about the afterlife and posted a video on YouTube a week before he died. Ben was already a YouTube personality, but his description of his experiences, related on a series of handwritten cards, went viral. I know everybody doesn’t buy into near-death experiences, but to date almost 7 million people have gone onto YouTube to see Ben’s reassuring message: “I can’t even describe the peace.” Having been privileged to be in the room when my mother’s soul left her body, I can only echo Ben’s words, “I can’t even describe the peace.” People don’t want death to be the end and it’s reassuring to hear stories that tell us that it is not.
Easter is a viral resurrection story. The power of Christ's resurrection spreads to His followers. The story went global and swept across time. With Christ’s own physical resurrection “death is swallowed up in victory.” Ages of despair and longing were answered with His empty tomb. Death is no longer to be feared.
Jesus proclaims himself “the resurrection and the life” and tells his followers to be born again. Christ’s invitation to rebirth and resurrection launched millions of compelling, personal stories about the spiritually dead restored to life. These stories continue to be written every day. Baptism mirrors the experience with a symbolic story about how we are “buried therefore with Him by baptism unto death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might walk in newness of life.”
I love that phrase, “newness of life.” God did not create us for death, not for physical death or spiritual death. We have already passed “from death to life.” This Resurrection Sunday we can celebrate that eternity is already begun in our lives because He is risen.