New suits and dresses in soft pastels. The smell of eggs and vinegar. Chocolate and peanut butter confections the size of the Death Star. That’s how we do Easter in the American South.
Of course, the church also features centrally in our celebrations. Easter Sunday is that day of the year when everyone knows families will dress a little nicer, the choir will sing a little louder, and the pastor will preach a little harder about the empty tomb.
But after the Sunday service is over, after the eggs have all been found, and after the candy has all been eaten, what then? Except for a passing reminder next Sunday that Jesus is still risen, Easter is over and life too quickly returns to normal.
We have forgotten what the resurrection really means.
More Than Evidence for an Argument
If the resurrection of Jesus truly is a cornerstone of the Christian faith, our light and momentary celebrations suggest that we haven’t grasped its full significance.
This is one result of reducing the resurrection to mere proof that Jesus is God, that death isn’t the end, and that we can have eternal life through faith in Jesus.
While each of those truths is vital, they do not get at the heart of why Easter matters. After all, the biblical writers show that people did not need the resurrection to believe that Jesus is God (Matt. 14:32–33; 27:54; Luke 16:31), that death isn’t the end (Job 19:25–27; Matt. 19:28; John 14:3), and that faith in Jesus is the only way to eternal life (Matt. 7:23; John 14:6; 17:3).
In addition to confirming the testimony of Scriptures, therefore, the resurrection affects the church’s in three substantial ways.
1. Easter Shapes the Scope of Mission
The bodily resurrection of Jesus is a reminder of the goodness of God’s physical world and his plan to redeem creation (Gen. 1:31; Col. 1:16, 20). As theologian Al Wolters has said, “God doesn’t make junk, and he does not junk what he has made” (57).
“Easter reminds us that God’s mission is nothing less than a cosmic makeover.”
This idea is not new. The apostle Paul told us, “The creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (Rom. 8:21 CSB). Similarly, the famous Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said: “The world is now in its working clothes and . . . by-and-by, it will be arrayed in its Easter garments of joy. . . . I cannot believe in that world being annihilated upon which Jesus was born and lived and died. Surely an earth with a Calvary upon it must last on! Will not the blood of Jesus immortalize it? It has groaned and travailed with mankind, being made subject to vanity for our sake. Surely it is to have its joyful redemption . . . .”
Thus, Easter reminds us that God’s mission is nothing less than a cosmic makeover. God is bringing the world to recognize its Maker and Redeemer (Rev. 21:2–3). He is replacing wrong with right (Rev. 21:4–5). He is filling the earth with things that testify to his glory (Rev. 21:24).
And all of this has implications for how the church lives now.
2. Easter Highlights the Moment of Mission
Too often Easter is made to sound like a mostly, if not entirely, future hope. But that is not the full story.
Indeed, the first Easter meant the redemption that Israel expected at the end of time came forward in history to meet them in Christ (Matt. 12:28; Luke 17:21). It meant that God’s new creation had come into the world—not fully, but really (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 8:11–24). And it meant that life in the kingdom of our resurrected Lord had present-day, this-worldly implications (Matt. 5:1–7:29).
Because of all this, Easter means the church’s mission goes beyond simply explaining good news for later. We also seek to embody the hope of that good news now.
“Easter invites us to display what the gospel declares.”
Just as a preview of coming attractions is real footage from a future film, or just as an appetizer is a small portion before the arrival of the main course, God uses our partial works in the present to anticipate the fullness of his future promises.
In this way, Easter invites us to display what the gospel declares. It calls us to join acts of justice and works of beauty to our words of truth so that we may show and tell how Jesus is making all things new, starting now with the redemption of sinners like us (Rev. 21:5; Rom. 8:19).
3. Easter Clarifies the Goal of Mission
Because we long to see the world come to know our Savior and Lord, it is dangerously easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal of mission.
That is, all of our evangelism, all of our church planting, and all of our good works ought to be aimed at glorifying God above all. We know this, but too often we pursue good things merely as the means to some other end, some other goal, even a great one—like the salvation of the lost.
Yet when we hitch the motivation for mission to metrics of earthly effectiveness, we will soon come to justify almost anything in the name of mission (pragmatism) or else we will give up when our efforts haven’t seemed to produce much fruit (defeatism). Easter changes all of this!
“Easter sets us free to pursue all that is good and beautiful and true for God’s sake.”
As he finished the longest chapter in the Bible on the meaning of the resurrection, Paul concluded, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58 CSB).
The resurrection reassures us that we are not wasting time spinning our wheels or polishing brass on the Titanic. This world is heading somewhere, and we are going along with it.
In other words, Easter reassures us that all our work carried out in the name of Jesus—every last bit of it—matters to God. For it means that we are learning to live like people who will dwell with God forever (Rev. 21:2–3). We are becoming the people he made us to be (Gen. 1:26–28). And we are bearing witness to the glory of God in all that we do (1 Cor. 10:31).
In short, Easter sets us free to pursue all that is good and beautiful and true for God’s sake.
Easter Is Over, but Not Its Impact
Easter Sunday may have come and gone. But the meaning of Easter for the church’s mission must never be forgotten. It points us to a hope as wide as the curse of sin. It brings good news for now and not just later. And it motivates us with the promise that everything we do for Jesus matters, and nothing that’s done for him will ever be in vain.
Easter is over. Long live the Easter mission.
Doug Ponder is a content editor for the IMB. Find him on Twitter.