This is the eighth and concluding reflection in our series of Lenten reflections, as we transition from Lent to the season of Eastertide. ESN would like to thank Bobby Gross for these thought-provoking and spiritually enriching posts. The first appeared on Ash Wednesday. You may browse the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth posts by following the respective links. The seventh post focuses on Good Friday.
For six weeks during Lent we fasted, but over the seven weeks of Eastertide we feast. Sobriety gives way to celebration, sorrow yields to joy, and our chosen austerity opens toward spiritual abundance. It is fitting that the feasting should exceed the fasting!
The resurrection means rebirth out of impotence and indolence to “the living hope,” [which] means a passion for life and a lived protest against death…It lives from something different—from the superabundance of God’s future.[i]
So announces the famous German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, inviting us into spiritually animated lives that push against all death and darkness in the world while embodying, however provisionally, the life and light of God. We want to be a faithful, renewing presence in the world, even as we wait in hope for the renewal of all things.
Easter looks back in faith to a real event some two thousand years ago. “Whatever else Christianity is, it is an assertion of historic fact,” writes Tish Harrison Warren in a compelling New York Times opinion piece this past weekend, insisting, against those who want to treat the story as only a spiritually uplifting parable:
But if Easter is only an abstraction, it doesn’t mean much to me. I’m with the Apostle Paul who wrote and the billions of Christians around the world who profess, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.” If Jesus wasn’t actually resurrected, then Easter is less real than the budding buzz of spring, less real than a dying breath, less real than my own hands, feet and skin. I have no interest in a Christianity that isn’t deeply, profoundly, irreducibly material.Tish Harrison Warren, New York Times, April 17, 2022
“Yes” to the materiality of Jesus’ resurrection! But the material fact also set in motion a spiritual tsunami whose waves roar across the surface of history, washing over us as rebirth and renewal, and rolling on through time to finally subside on the shores of eternity. On that shore stands the One who identifies himself as “the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end,” and declares “See, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21).
We can simplify the vast implications of the Resurrection into two questions: How am I being renewed by the power of the resurrection? How am I contributing to renewal where I am situated in the world? Reflecting along these lines makes Easter sense over these next seven weeks leading up to Pentecost Sunday on June 5.
Resurrection means the presence of Christ within us and the power of Christ to change us. As Paul asserts: “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17) We are rightly always working on ourselves, as it were, but we trust in another power also at work: “You have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10) Practically speaking, what propensities and practices might you give attention to over these weeks, asking for God’s renewing power to generate further change?
In Colossians, Paul also speaks of transformation within the larger cultural world, one linked to the resurrected Christ: “He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell [Incarnation!], and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross [Redemption!].” (Col 2:18-20). Again, practically, where do you find yourself embedded—household, neighborhood, workplace, church, community organizations—with the opportunity to be good and do good by your attitudes and words and actions. How are we salt or light or yeast, as Jesus described how the presence of his “kingdom” works?
In InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries we have a phrase that feeds our vision. We see ourselves as called to the college and university context “to be a redeeming influence among its people, ideas, and structures.” We seek to plant and grow witnessing communities of students or faculty following Christ together on campus to that end. We pray for God’s renewing “kingdom to come” on campus “as it is in heaven”:
Our vision for renewal entails both corrective and creative dimensions. We promote the recovery of all that once was good and God-honoring. We value the bringing about of every new good that reflects God’s purposes and anticipates the fully redeemed New Heaven and Earth to come. We long to see faculty and students striving to integrate faith, life, and vocation under Christ’s lordship. We desire to see the pursuit of truth and wisdom, not just accumulation of knowledge and skills. We want to see institutional life that is just and campus culture that is life-giving.
Undergraduate students have a passing influence during their brief years while grad students arguably have more, but those with the greatest potential to be a renewing presence over time are faculty and administrators, those teaching and doing research and running departments.
Two weeks ago, I heard three stories over three days of faculty living out their faith in their vocational context in transformative ways: a chair of the chemistry department at an ivy league campus who has instituted a set of “community values” that have decidedly changed the culture of the department; a head of a biomedical engineering program at a midwestern university who has designed ground breaking partnerships with other universities to not only advance a shared research focus but to build a more collaborative institutional structure; and a researcher achieving breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s research featured recently in a PBS Nova special.
Such good work partakes of the “superabundance of God’s future.”
But at some point, our work in this world comes to an end because our lives come to their end. On Good Friday last week, Terry, a retired chemistry professor who later joined InterVarsity to help faculty across the country become more faithful in their renewing presence on campus, gathered with his children at the bedside of his wife Shirley as they removed life support. But of course, she was not without support from the one who disclosed himself as the Life. Her death was swallowed up by Life. And we who grieve do not do so as those without hope. We look to the day when we will all be changed, “in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet,” when the dead are raised in new bodies imperishable.
This too is our “living hope.”
[i] Jürgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless (SCM Press, 2012), pp. 123-126.
About the author:
Bobby Gross has spent his career in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He currently serves as Vice President for the Graduate & Faculty Ministries division. Originally from Columbus, GA, Bobby and his wife Charlene have lived in Gainesville (FL), Miami (FL), New York City, and now Atlanta. He graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a B.A. in American Studies and English Literature and did additional studies in theology at Regent College in Vancouver. Bobby served on the national board of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) for six years. Bobby is the author of Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God. He has also contributed chapters to three other books, including Faith on the Edge (InterVarsity Press) and Signs of Hope in the City (Judson). Bobby has experience in preaching, teaching, and training on a range of subjects including leadership development, vocational stewardship, and spiritual formation. An admitted bibliophile, Bobby also writes poetry and collects contemporary art on religious themes.