As a parish minister I have seen quite a few people about to die or others coping with a loved one’s death. I remember leading the funeral for a young woman of 25 who had died of cystic fibrosis, a terminal lung disease. She was part of the local community but not a Christian believer and I can still remember the desperate sense of hopelessness on the faces of her family and friends. For without Christ, our resurrected Saviour, there is no hope beyond this life, no reversal.
I also remember going to visit a retired Anglican minister in hospital as he was about to die. I began to talk to him about the sure hope we have of eternal life with God and his people in the glory of heaven. He interrupted me with a real sense of excitement saying “I’m already there !”.
He was not being delusional, for Paul describes our current spiritual state in Colossians 3:1:
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”
Through Jesus’ death for our sins and resurrection to defeat death and bring life, we can say with Paul that we have already been raised from death to life in a spiritual sense, while we wait for our physical resurrection. In a way, through Jesus, we are already experiencing the reversal of the resurrection, from death to life. That dying minister ministered to me!
Jesus’ resurrection, which we celebrate at Easter and every Sunday, brought about other profound reversals for God’s people. We see this in Matthew 28.
1. We see how the resurrection brought the reversal of victory for Jesus in the face of apparent defeat at the hands of sinful people. That is true for us too as we face opposition as Christians who have little or no power of our own. In our mission, Jesus is with us always and Jesus is all powerful over all people (Matthew 28:19-20).
2. We see the reversal of fear being replaced by joy as in the case of the women at Jesus’ empty tomb (Matthew 28:7-10). That is true for us too. I have met a number of Christians who, while facing death, were at peace and ready to die. One man who knew he would die soon cried out to God “Lord, why won’t you take me now?” in a loud voice. He was anticipating the joy of being “with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).
3. Another reversal is that the decay of human death is replaced with the joy of life eternal.
A while ago I saw a big billboard advertising a lawn cemetery as a great excursion for the grand-kids to go and visit grandma or grandpa. I thought it was in bizarre bad taste. I have been to many cemeteries and none of them bring feelings of having a fun visit. Death is about decay and loss and grief far more than any fun and celebration. But the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, which brings resurrection to eternal life for all who believe in him, reverses the decay of death (1 Corinthians 15:26 and v42-44). His resurrection brings, along with grief for us, joy for the believer who is with the Lord, waiting for resurrection life when Christ returns in glory, and joy for us knowing that their future and our future will be perfect, satisfying, social and supremely worshipful (Matt 28:17).