In a recent conversation with a friend about the number of people who cried at my nuptials last month, he expressed surprise at my lack of tears. “I did get misty-eyed once,” I insisted, “during the Hopkins reading – the part where he talks about Resurrection. But, then,” I conceded, “I always cry when I think about the Resurrection.”
It’s true. If we recite the Nicene Creed in church, a spark of grave delight shoots through me when I hear the words, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” When I hear an NT Wright podcast and he brings up Resurrection (which he always does), a knot catches in the back of my throat and, with much effort, I keep the tears in my eyes from flowing down my cheeks.
At my wedding, there was a reading of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection (http://www.bartleby.com/122/48.html). I will not attempt an in-depth dissection and interpretation of this poem, but a cursory reading reveals that Hopkins is describing the tension between both the wondrous beauty of nature and its dark inconstancy. Nature is a Heraclitean Fire, always in flux, always changing. The marks man makes are quickly gone: “Man, how fast his firedint, ‘ his mark on mind, is gone!” In the end, humans must succumb to death; their work and their life is quickly cut off:
O pity and indig’nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ‘death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time ‘beats level.
It is in the midst of this tragic recital about the inevitability of death that Hopkins interjects, “Enough! the Resurrection…” The poet goes on to show that because of the Resurrection of Christ, humankind has hope of Resurrection. Although “flesh fade, and mortal trash fall to the residuary worm,” the poet hopes in the return of Christ when Christ will resurrect him and transform him into a flawless, glorious immortal:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
As NT Wright has often said, it is odd that so many Christians do not actually know what is the Christian hope: bodily resurrection and restoration to a re-created earth. Like many “churched” kids my age, I grew up in a typical Evangelical church that emphasized two things: soul-winning and soul-cultivating. As a good Evangelical church, it couldn’t put an emphasis on doing good works to earn salvation, but still realized that it was no good gettin’ a soul into heaven if he wouldn’t be fit to go there by the time he reached it (hence discipleship).
I grew up believing (as do many Christians today who have not been told otherwise) that the final destination of the Christian was heaven: that God created the world but man messed it up, so God (in His love) had to make a way for Christians to get into heaven to live with Him (instead of going to Hell). In fact, the Biblical narrative reveals that God created the good earth and set humankind as rulers over the earth to cultivate and keep it and enjoy its bounty. However, humankind rebelled and consequently the whole earth was put under a Curse of sin, decay and death. At the proper time, God sent Christ into the world (the flawless, sinless Human-God) who, through his own death and resurrection, conquered sin and death (the result of sin). The Scriptures say that one day Christ will come again to the earth and resurrect the dead. Then there will be a Great Judgment, and all who embrace Christ as King of Universe will live on a restored earth under his rulership. All those who do not embrace Christ as King will be cast into eternal fire.
As I child, I was confused. I knew I was supposed to want to go to heaven (and I was sure it would be great and all), but I didn’t understand what was so bad about the earth. I enjoyed the physical world. Why couldn’t God just come and fix the old world instead of taking us away to something new? Little did I know that this is indeed the Christian hope – that Christ will return to fix the world he created, ultimately destroy sin and death and re-create the world.
I am always fascinated by the end of the Nicene Creed, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” In the Apostle’s Creed, the end is rendered, “…and the life everlasting.” I have always preferred the Nicene’s rendering of this portion because it reminds me that this “life everlasting” is not an eternal, disembodied existence in a far-off, Platonic heaven. Instead, this life everlasting is the ushering in of a new age, of the world to come, the era in which Christ will govern justly over resurrected humanity.
I cried at my wedding because my husband and I have hope of resurrection. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come; when these Jacks, jokes, poor potsherds, ‘patches, matchwood, immortal diamonds – are immortal diamonds.