Z. Bulut Yasar
In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” Prince Prospero and his nobles, in an attempt to escape a rampaging plague, lock themselves in a large, well-guarded castle. Thinking they have escaped death, they begin to revel and feast. The prince even stages a masked ball to entertain his friends.
At the ball, however, a mysterious figure emerges, dressed horribly as a corpse. When sPrince Prospero, enraged at the blasphemous costume, chases the figure down with a dagger, it is the prince who grotesquely falls dead. The figure is finally revealed to be the plague itself, the Red Death. Death was in the castle with the revelers all along. Death came for all.
In this short story, Poe illustrates what we all understand: death is inevitable. There is no hiding or escaping from it. It towers over everyone, declaring its unchallenged dominion. It is a black hole that swallows all things, and we are utterly powerless. Death is by far humanity’s greatest fear.
There is, however, something in the human heart that corresponds to this fear: a yearning to overcome death or a longing for someone to defeat it for us. In his famous essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien explains that one reason why we love reading fairy tales is because we want to defeat death. Our hearts have this deep longing to witness the death of death, and fairy tales offer us a taste of such immortality. Fairy tales create an alternate world where there is the possibility of overcoming death and attaining everlasting life.
To both our terror of death and our longing for life, Christ’s empty tomb speaks volumes. The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate response to death and the true antidote to the restlessness of our hearts. The resurrection dispels our common fear and satisfies our shared yearning by declaring victory over death, by signaling the arrival of a new age, by giving us time, and by providing us comfort.
When a famous athlete dies unexpectedly, we are shocked and deeply affected. Certainly we may feel somehow connected to the person, but isn’t our shock also because we thought that such an athlete, with such stunning physical prowess, was invincible? Athletes play through injuries and come back from all kinds of adversities. They are the heroes we want to follow, and we think they can lead us. Yet death irrevocably takes them, too.
Christ, however, in his resurrection, gives us what we have been looking for in our earthly heroes. He is the true hero who goes to war with our greatest foe and comes back victorious. He goes into that black hole of death but reemerges. Just as David stood over Goliath the giant, Jesus stands over our great enemy, declaring his victory. He is the first one who battled death and won.
Paul exclaims this victory with these rhetorical questions, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).
Moreover, we are truly connected to our hero, and not from following his Twitter account. He is our Head, we are his body (Col. 1:18); he is the Bridegroom, we are the bride (Eph. 5:25–32); he is the Shepherd, we are the sheep (John 10:11). He is so identified with us that when we are persecuted, he is persecuted (Acts 9:4); when someone gives us food, that one feeds Jesus (Matt. 25:31–40). We are united to him.
That is why Paul says, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). His victory is our victory! His battle won is our battle won. He is the worthy one who can lead us. He is the worthy one whom we can trust. In the words of Balin from The Hobbit, “There is one I could follow. There is one I could call King.”
Everyone realizes that there is something wrong with this world. There is corruption, decay, and death. We are depressed by the fear of evil in the present age, and we deeply respond to hope for change. Even creation is groaning for a renewal (Rom. 8:22).
The resurrection of Jesus shows us that the operation of fixing, redeeming, and renewing this world has already begun. A new age has been initiated by the Messiah’s victory over death. Unlike Lazarus who was raised from the dead but would again die, Jesus was raised from the dead with an imperishable body. Paul calls it the spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44). It is a body that is fitting for the age to come. This body, which is holy and incorruptible, was also fit to be at his Father’s side. Therefore, Jesus was able to ascend to his Father’s side as the righteous and holy Son who fulfilled his mission.
When Jesus left and ascended into heaven, he opened up a hole, as it were, between heaven and earth, from which the Spirit rushed into our world. It was as if a rocket launched and opened a window in the sky. From this “window” came the Helper. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you,” Jesus said (John 16:7).
Jesus had to leave to open that window to send his Spirit, and this Spirit has begun saving and renewing dead hearts. A new era has begun. As Christ said, he is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). Eventually, he will set the whole creation free (Rom. 8:21). Once this renewing is complete, toil will turn into delight; tears will turn into joy; death itself will die; and the fresh aroma of life will dominate.
Carpe diem, the saying goes. Seize the day, for there is no sequel to this life. Unfortunately, we can Christianize this motto by thinking that the real fun happens here on earth and that heaven will be boring. We rush through our lives, grabbing what we can. We fear missing out. We want to taste every food, travel to every country, and experience every new thing.
But the resurrection of Christ gives us another perspective. When Jesus was raised from the dead, Thomas touched Jesus’s wounds, confirming a physical body (John 20:24–29). What does this tell us? That the new creation, the life in New Jerusalem, is a physical existence as well as a spiritual one. The first person of the everlasting world has a body. So we won’t be friendly ghosts floating around. We will be living with the fountain of all good things (James 1:17). The book of Revelation is full of references to music, feasts, and amazing views in the world to come (Rev. 15:1–4; 19:9; 21:9–22:5). Instead of seizing this life, we should live with open hands, realizing that all the good things in this creation are only foretastes of what is to come. We don’t have to rush. We have ample time. The best is yet to come. (Of course, this does not mean that we should not fully enjoy common grace blessings. Not at all! We can certainly go and experience the whole wide world but must never think that this is our only chance.)
Children’s earliest fear is often losing their parents. The fear can become so obsessive that it leads to vivid nightmares. As we grow up and our lives fill with daily responsibilities, we might become less consumed by the fear of loss, but it doesn’t disappear. It still haunts us, just perhaps less obviously. We still fear losing our loved ones. We fear separation from or pain coming to our loved ones. We are reminded frequently of our own mortality.
The resurrection of Christ provides the comfort that we need in this life and the life to come. First, the resurrection of Jesus assures us that we will be united bodily with our loved ones who are Christians. At last, we will be together without the fear of goodbyes, and our loved ones will be more truly themselves even than when they were here on earth. When Jesus was raised from the dead, though he had an incorruptible and imperishable body, he was still Jesus.
Second, the resurrection gives us a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3). This is the sure hope that at his coming Jesus will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body (Phil. 3:20–21). Speaking of resurrection, Paul says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (1 Cor. 15:23). What our Head now has, we will have.
Finally, the resurrection of Christ promises that we will be with the source of all comfort, Christ Jesus, who will make all things right. We will see him face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). We will be with the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:17). This source of all comfort, as C. S. Lewis puts it, “will turn every agony into glory” (The Great Divorce).
The resurrection of Jesus truly takes away all the fears that are related to death. Whether it is the fear of the present evil age, of not having enough time, or of losing our loved ones, the resurrection provides the perspective and the understanding to be free of these fears.
And as we meditate on Christ’s resurrection, we are not just emboldened but also fully satisfied, because it gives us the victorious hero who has initiated the new age and given us the hope and the comfort that we will be with him forever and ever. Through the resurrection, the promise that there will be “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) comes true.
The author is a pastor of New Life OPC in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. New Horizons, April 2020.