Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:2-3).
It is no exaggeration to say that everything we actually know about love, we know through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. People often say they live for love or, maybe even repeating St. John, repeat something like, ‘God is love,’ but what evidence do any of us have for these remarks? What evidence do we have that love is the most important part of life, or even that love is worth the sacrifices we make in its honor? A romantic might tell us love elevates them to the highest plane of ecstasy; a social scientist might reference a study pointing to happiness or fulfillment in connection to something called love, but what is all that whispered pleading in comparison to the mighty thunder claps of agony awaiting us all at the inevitable ends of our loves. Decay and death are the great, ‘No,’ to all the relationships we cobble together with our clumsy hands and scarred hearts. Decay and Death take those things we build together, those physical and emotional structures of love, and break them no matter how hard we scream in protest. We are reminded of this reality by the Book of Ecclesiastes: ‘For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). This eyes-wide-open honesty is the truth of the human condition without the victory we celebrate today.
When we combine this obvious reality with the pain soaked pages of history, it should shake to its core the mad convictions of those who seek love in this world without living in the blessed assurance of resurrection. Why? Well, if the world is not governed by triumphant, everlasting love, shown most perfectly in the historical resurrection of Jesus from the dead, why bother? Surely, if there is no resurrection of Christ, then our calls to love our neighbor will be shouted down and enfeebled by our lust, our bitterness, our cruelty, and our selfishness. There is no event which could silence this collection of our failings except the resurrection of a publicly executed man from the dead; no other act is capable of demonstrating the great, abiding, life-affirming truth that God is love.
But what does this reality mean? It means that love—eternal, divine, perfect love—is the reason there is a creation, and even more gloriously, the manifestation of love’s true and awesome capacity is our world’s certain goal. Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection are the empirical evidence by which we know this truth. To quote the Anglican priest and poet John Donne, ‘One of the most convenient [symbols] of God is a circle, and a circle is endless; whom God loves, he loves to the end; and not only to their own end, to their death, but to his end, and his end is, that he might love them still…’ To be a Christian is not to live in a world of fake smiles and cheap delusional happiness, nor is it to live in a world of rank hypocrisy and conflicted loyalties; no, to be a Christian is to live in death—fully aware of God’s power and judgment—while also living in resurrection—fully aware of God’s mercy and love.
But, we must not pit God’s judgment against His love; no, the Cross is the greatest act of love ever enacted on this planet and the resurrection is the greatest act of judgment against the evil which clouds our minds and soils our hands. God’s love, the only true and eternal love, the only love which has stripped the grave of its dark power, that love is not concerned with just making us happy. After all, pigs are happy in filth; my dog is happy licking himself; a teenage boy is happy watching a YouTube video of people falling down stairs, but none of this ‘happiness’ is why we were created. Rather, God’s triumphant love takes our eyes and hearts off the misery and loneliness and purposelessness which drives men and women to the slow-motion suicide of a world without forever. The reality of Christ’s empty tomb, the reality of life after death, demands a radical rearrangement of our everyday priorities, one that will obviously distinguish us from those living lives surrounded by the countless contradictions daily killing them. Resurrection means we aren’t running out of time; it means we don’t need a bucket list; it means we don’t have to worry about missing this opportunity or experience or adventure because immortality beckons. Life in the new heaven and new earth is on the horizon, and so all of our actions become preparation and thanksgiving for what God has done for us in proving love is eternal.
If that is our assured hope, and I pray it is, the only reasonable response, no matter what our age, is to go to war against anything that distracts us from lives of preparation and thanksgiving. As St. Paul writes, ‘Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry…you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth’ (Colossians 3:5-6,8). None of these commands are the means by which anyone is saved. They aren’t a checklist which gets you into the new, resurrected earth, but they are the means by which we live lives of internal and external integrity. It is how we live as new men and women restored and recreated in the image of our Creator, in the image of our resurrected Lord. If resurrection is our assured hope, we lie to ourselves and to the world every time we live as if our destiny isn’t everlasting life. An authentic life is not you or I efficiently responding to our most base desires; it isn’t finding the right person to marry; it isn’t work fulfillment or an expensive house or any of the other decaying idols sold to us for our souls; no, living an authentic life is living right now as those whose truest life begins when we embrace our resurrected king in a world without pain or suffering or fear. That life won’t happen by accident, it will take real work centered on our participation in Christ’s church, centered on His Word and Sacraments, but true love will reverberate out from there. Our new lives of preparation and thanksgiving are to be focused on what actually matters, love eternal, rather than the ashes of this fallen world, rather than the ashes which feel so real until the wind blows them out of our hands.
But please, don’t be afraid; you don’t ever have to be afraid again. As Ecclesiastes tells us, ‘All are from the dust, and to dust all return’ (Ecclesiastes 3:20). But, thanks to the resurrection, we know what God can do with dust and ash; we know what God can do with bodies broken by the sins of men; we know what God can do with love.