I don’t like missing worship, she told me as we streamed service. Which I was both sad and glad to hear.
Days before I knew I’d have to miss service, I was telling a few women how Easter was my favorite day of the year. I love catching a glimpse of heaven in the congregation’s boisterous singing. I am glad for the permission to unbalance my feelings for a moment, to lay aside the tension of holding the “not yet” of God’s promises and allow my heart to fully rejoice in Christ’s victory over death.
Instead, I attended service in pajamas, streaming it online with one of my girls who’s at the tail end of Covid quarantine. And though I’m grateful for our tech team who made that possible, it’s not the same as hearing the voices of God’s people fill the church. Not the same as feeling my faith rise as another takes my hand firmly, looks me in the eye, and tells me, “Christ is risen.” Instead, I spent a good chunk of the day in bed, wiped by an illness which has circumscribed much of my life for 20 years, though I’ve only recently received a diagnosis. Instead, I called another family member recovering from surgery for a brain aneurysm.
Christ is risen indeed.
I say this without irony, definitely without sarcasm. Because although I didn’t get to taste the soul-anchoring celebration I look forward to every year, Easter was an invitation nonetheless. To call to mind the sure, steadfast anchor for my soul, a hope that enters behind the veil (Heb. 6:19-20). Or, to borrow another nautical term, to turn my attention to my ballast.
I first learned about ballasts while reading up on the old church building where I worshipped as a child. After a cross-Atlantic journey to NY, the immigrants who founded the church had used ballast stones from their ship to build their sanctuary. Nowadays, ships use water pumps and tanks instead of these stones, but the purpose is the same. In order to keep vessels stabilized, weight is added below water-level to counteract the effects of the weight above it. Especially in rough seas, the ballast keeps a ship maneuverable and prevents it from becoming top-heavy and tipping over.
I feel as if this Easter, instead of attending the party above deck, I was walked down to the belly of my ship. The reality of the resurrection is not just a fact in history, a tenet of the Christian faith, or an event to be celebrated once a year. It is of first importance, an ever-present reality that keeps us whether we are consciously turning our attention to it or not. It steadies believers through storm and gale, so we are not shipwrecked. It is a ballast for life.
In one of my favorite passages, the apostle Paul wrote a series of counterfactuals describing the dreadful reality that would have been if Jesus did not rise. If Christ were not raised from the dead, he writes, our faith is futile. Because if Jesus’ lungs did not fill with air on the third day, the Bible and its gospel is a lie. If there weren’t a moment in time when his heart hadn’t been beating– and then (hallelujah!) began to pump again, there is no forgiveness of sin. No life after death. No hope beyond the grave. Christians are the most pitiable of all people if Jesus did not walk out of that tomb, leaving his grave clothes behind. (1 Cor. 15:14-19)
Then he goes on to say, but. But Christ has indeed has been raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:20). So, the implication is, the opposite is true. The gospel is true and the Scriptures are reliable. Those who have died in Christ will live. We are not in our sins. We are not to be pitied.
What’s more, Paul explains, is that Jesus’ resurrection was not merely a reversal of death. It was the beginning of a new kind of life. The life Jesus rose to was of a different quality than the one he’d laid down at the cross. His body, sown in dishonor, was raised in honor. Sown mortal, he was raised immortal. Sown in weakness, raised in power. He was the first man to be resurrected this way, but as it was with him, so it will be with us (1 Cor. 15:42-49).
This is my sure and steady hope in life and death. In pandemic quarantines, and chronic illness, and uncertainty about loved one’s health. In anxiety, and weakness, and broken bodies, and struggles with sin, and the world’s innumerable sadnesses. That Christ was the firstfruits of those who have died, his resurrection guaranteeing the harvest to come. That when he returns, those who belong to him will be likewise transformed. That the resurrection seals all God’s promises as true. That I do not speak to, look to, or hope in a dead God, but one who lives and reigns forever. That I am truly forgiven. And that Jesus is still alive, even when it doesn’t feel like Easter.
Beloved, our faith is not futile. Not on Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday, Easter Monday, or any day that follows because Christ is still risen.
He is still risen indeed.