We are plagued in this life by irretrievable loss. Because we are bound by time, that ever advancing treadmill with no emergency cut-off, our lives are filled with fleeting moments – events, people, and circumstances that are taken from us, many of them long before we wish.
Growing up, my family was very close. My most-cherished childhood memories are from summer vacations spent hiking, camping, backpacking and fly-fishing with my two brothers and my parents. By my 18th birthday, we had spent time in many of our country’s most notable national parks. Those adventures became the glue that kept my family close. Mountains conquered, lakes traversed, progressively bigger fish, and fish stories – these were the experiences that deepened our relationships. For me, those trips were worry-free, and joy-filled. At the time, it was hard to imagine things would ever be different.
Of course now, things are. I have my own small family living on the East Coast. My brothers and their families are in Northwest Arkansas 17 hours away. And my parents have been facing difficulties in their marriage. Because of circumstances and the movement of time, it is now impossible to ever step back into those cherished childhood moments.
This is the reality of our lives. We deal with loss – a sense of irretrievability. Once a moment or season of life is gone, it can rarely, if ever, be recovered. Some of us deal with this by always pushing forward – to stop moving is to miss out. For others, or perhaps at other times, this sense of loss becomes a burden that we carry. We feel it when we have to say goodbye to a loved one, when a diagnosis is pronounced, or when we must move on, from a job, a home, or a relationship.
But as I reflected on the Resurrection again this Easter season I found a reason for hope and comfort in this as well. As the Gospel writers tell the story, the new life Jesus came to bring is not just resurrection, but restoration.
The greatest example of this is probably Jesus himself. Have you ever wondered why the nail-marks remain? As Jesus was nailed to the cross, his wounds were visible and physically brutal. But then on the third day he is raised to new life. He has a resurrected, perfected body that is tangible, present, and in a sense, more real than ever before. But then, why the nail-marks? Aren’t these remnants of an old, broken past? Shouldn’t they have been expunged in resurrection?
That is why thinking of this as restoration may be helpful. It seems, as best we can understand, that this new life is not just an extension of the old – extra days added on to the end, or the old body raised back up – but now there is restoration, a renewal and perfection of what was always there. Even the painful scars of the past are redeemed, called out, no longer as sources of pain, conflict, or sin, but now as signs of victory. The wounds that once plagued Jesus’ body, are now the evidence of God’s glory. They serve as witnesses to all that God has done.
God has a habit of taking that which is broken, weak, or fragile and elevating it to high places. Nearly every story in Scripture is evidence of this work. Moses, an orphaned child, and murderous young man, is used by God to save his people. David, the youngest, slightest of his brothers becomes the noble king, leading Israel to prominence. Esther, a Hebrew among Persians becomes queen and rescues the Jews from certain death. These and many others are part of God’s great story. A story that shows God’s power, faithfulness, and perseverance in an imperfect world. He raises up the unassuming, so that through them others might see God’s glory. In light of these examples, resurrection, the restoration of God’s people is the final, wonderful moment when this story is fully realized.
J.R.R. Tolkien seems to have gotten hold of this idea as well. In The Return of the King, the final book of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, after Sam and Frodo and the others have completed their epic journey, stared evil in the face, and at points felt certain they would die, Sam awakens from what he felt was the longest dream. Then follows these words:
“‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’
But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf, I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’
‘A great shadow has departed,’ said he to Sam, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known.'”
“Is everything sad going to come untrue?” Will we finally realize what we have always longed for? Could the fleeting days, the lost moments, the forgotten joys all somehow be rediscovered? That is the hope I believe we have. Resurrection is not just an extension of this life, extra days tacked on the end, or something new where there will be no remembrance of the old. But it is, I believe, a more complete existence, a restoration where all the very best parts and pieces of this life are brought together to provide the greatest of joys, all revealing in deeper ways the true glory of the One who made it possible.
Just one more thought.
If Jesus’ nail-marks remain, as witnesses of restoration, could ours? Could cancer cells that once squeezed life out of a body, on that day serve as one more sign of God’s powerful triumph, that even this once devastating disease has lost its hold. Could an injury, or birth abnormality, in their resurrected state be transformed from a point of weakness into a source of strength? Could those whose lives have been torn apart by civil war or violence, be lifted up in new life, so that the injustices they faced become powerful testimonies of the true freedom and peace made possible through the cross?
At the very least this resurrection truth should waylay our worries in this life. If restoration awaits, we won’t truly “miss out” on anything. We have been irretrievably found by our God through Jesus’ work, and everything we have ever longed for will on that day be unveiled.
At the very most this great promise, and the evidence of Jesus’ own resurrection, serve to embolden and empower us to live as his people now. We have seen glimpses of all God has planned for the future, let’s work to bring about foretastes of that grace, joy, and freedom today.
Christ the Lord is Risen Today (Vs. 2-4)
Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!
Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia!
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!