The Mission of Easter
Happy Easter! It’s that time of year when we get to hit the pause button from everything else going on – albeit briefly – and celebrate the resurrection. In one sense, Christians have the privilege of celebrating the empty tomb every day – the resurrected Christ lives in our hearts. However, I feel that setting aside a specific day to remember and reflect on the significance of the resurrection is appropriate.
Growing up, Easter was a highlight holiday for me: it was annually marked by a big family reunion with the obligatory Easter-egg hunt. What child is going to say ‘no’ to chocolate? For the most part, however, I don’t recall much about the actual church services. So whereas I knew that we were celebrating the resurrection, and discussion about the cross was somehow associated, it never seemed as big as Christmas.
Easter is also a significant reminder of our church planting days in Ukraine – we had just moved to Ukraine in 1995 when a few weeks later it was resurrection Sunday. I remember the first Easter we were there, looking out the window of our 7th floor flat early on Sunday morning.
People were streaming down our street – people who seldom seemed to go to church – and they were all dressed in traditional clothing and were carrying baskets. We later learned that tucked away in their baskets was pascha – a special Easter bread. They would take the bread to a church to be blessed by a priest … and later to be eaten by their family.
Unlike the United States, where the cultural legacy of Christianity makes Easter one of the highest-attendance Sundays of the year, it’s no big deal in Scotland. Easter typically falls during a school holiday period, and that means families seize the opportunity to take a break and get away. Plus, the weather is not typically warm-enough for Spring-time festivities like big outdoor Easter-egg hunts.
So in Europe, Easter feels a bit different than in the States. But that’s not the only thing that feels different. This is an interesting time to live in the UK; we are in the process of negotiating our relationship with Europe, a move commonly referred to as ‘Brexit’.
As we look at this, at multiple levels, this renegotiation of relationship is about a search for identity. And a new identity is central to what Easter is all about. The resurrection represents God’s ultimate declaration of victory over the powers of darkness. Jesus defeated death, hell and the grave, and the resurrection proves it. The focus of preaching described in Acts is the resurrection – the apostles were witnesses ‘of these things’.
But there’s more: the resurrection leads inexorably to the ascension, the moment when Jesus left planet earth. Multiple benefits accrue to us through Christ’s ascension: because he ascended, the Father and Son sent the Spirit; because he ascended, he ‘ever lives to make intercession for the saints’. In the ascension, as the Perfect High Priest, he took the blood of the Perfect Lamb – his own blood – into the heavenly holy of holies. Thus, the ascension is the culmination of Christ’s atoning work.
Our identity as followers of Jesus is also shaped by the ascension: we are ‘seated with Christ in heavenly places’. Thus, our citizenship is in heaven, because that’s where we are. The ascension is a rich resource reminding us that our ultimate destiny is to follow in the footsteps of Christ and follow this same path.
But there is even more: according to Paul in Ephesians, in the ascension, Christ ‘led a host of captives and gave gifts to men’. Then Paul identifies the gifts Jesus gave: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Christ ‘ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things’. But he gave gifts to the church. And these gifts are about getting God’s mission done.
All this means that in Easter and the Ascension, we have a foundation for Christian mission. The resurrection is God’s demonstration of Christ’s ultimate victory, validating that his sacrifice on the cross had worked and that Satan and his minions are defeated. God’s mission unfolds as we witness to the reality of Christ’s resurrection.
In the Ascension, Christ distributed the tools to get the job done. These ministry gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher are given to the church to equip believers for God’s effective ministry.
The gifts that Jesus entrusted to his church when he ascended were multi-faceted. It wasn’t just apostles or teachers – it was a package of gifts required to get the job done. Jesus didn’t give these ministry gifts so the church can feel better about itself. Ministry gifts aren’t for playing; they’re for purpose. He gave us ministry gifts so we could get the job done. And that job has always involved faithfully witnessing to the world about what God has done in Christ.
So as we celebrate Easter comes this year – yes – let’s say ‘Thank You’ to God for his amazing victory. Thank you, Jesus, that you have defeated death, hell, and the grave. But let’s also give God thanks for the ascension, remembering that Christ has dispensed gifts so that we can get on with the mission of gospel advance.
Together, as we faithfully use for his glory what God has entrusted to us, we can get the job done. And that means that more and more people will participate in the joy of Easter.