In the Marvel cinematic universe, Thor is a prince granted the unique vocation of “ruler of Asgard.” This authority is established outside of himself by Odin, his father, by way of the enchanted hammer, Mjolnir: “Whoever is worthy to wield the hammer, may rule Asgard.”
When Paul needed to legitimize his authority as an apostle, he did so based solely on an authority outside of himself: that he had seen and heard the resurrected Christ (I Corinthians 9:1). But the resurrection is not just an authoritative fact of history, or a mere doctrine in which we place our hope. Jesus’ bodily resurrection by God in actual history underwrites the whole Christian faith as the one true religion; it is a truth affirmed by tens of thousands of martyrs, both apostolic and laypeople.
When Paul needed to comfort the Corinthians regarding the severe burden of persecution for the sake of the Gospel, he did so by presenting God as their (and our) exclusive provider of true salvation, because He is the LORD of the resurrection: “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9) That bears repeating: Braced by the Holy Spirit, we remain steadfast in faith, because we have a God who raises the dead.
When Paul famously preached to the Greeks in Athens, the primary topic was the resurrection of Jesus and all Christians. St. Luke reports at the end of Acts 17, “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, ‘We will hear you again on this matter.'” It was the resurrection they wanted to hear more about–not just that of our LORD’s, but of the dead, as we confess in the Apostle’s Creed. St. Luke continues: “So Paul departed from among them. However, some men joined him and believed…” It was the teaching of the resurrection that the Holy Spirit used to convert these men. They heard about the resurrection of the body unto life everlasting and they could not get enough.
Neither should we. And I daresay that if we cannot get enough of this teaching, then there are tens of thousands outside our doors who cannot get enough of it either, and may well not get nearly enough as they should. St. Paul writes to the Romans (8:22-25), “For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
The key to the Gospel preached by the Apostles was the resurrection; immortality, with glorified bodies, made for the new creation with the Triune God, was what kept the early Christians enduring and long-suffering in faith. It was what kept the lamps of their faith burning brightly, doing good works for their neighbors to the glory of our Father in heaven, despite the severe persecution, hard labor, and unjust martyrdom. The words of the Creed that the afflicted and martyred had on their lips–“the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting”–were the last words many of them spoke before being called from this world to their place at the throne of God–words of confident hope to themselves and their brothers and sisters suffering with them. They were also the last words heard by many of those executing or reveling in the injustices cast upon them–words that the Holy Spirit surely used to draw hearts to the Crucified One, according to accounts from that period.
In the Large Catechism, Luther wrote, “For consider, if there were somewhere a physician who understood the art of saving men from dying, or, even though they died, of restoring them speedily to life, so that they would thereafter live forever, how the world would pour in money like snow and rain, so that because of the throng of the rich no one could find access! But here in Baptism there is brought free to every one’s door such a treasure and medicine as utterly destroys death and preserves all men alive. Thus we must regard Baptism and make it profitable to ourselves, that when our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless, I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.” (VI, 43-44)
Consider verses from some of our most beloved hymns:
Soar we now where Christ has led;
Following our exalted Head.
Made like Him, like Him we rise;
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
(LSB #469 “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”, v.5)
When from the dust of death I rise
To claim my mansion in the skies,
E’en then, this shall be all my plea:
Jesus hath lived and died for me.
(LSB #563 “Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”, v. 5)
But, lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on His way.
(LSB #677 “For All the Saints”, v. 7)
And here is one of our oldest–from between the 4th and 7th centuries:
Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And your saints in you shall rise.
(LSB #633 “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”, v. 6)
The ages of the church bear out: When all things are boiled down to their essence, it is the resurrection of our body, by God–with Christ Jesus as the first-fruits–upon which we place the sure hope of our faith. That is what it means to be ‘an Easter people’. That is the joy we take into our mouths in the Holy Communion of our LORD’s Body and Blood–the joy located and sealed for us in our Holy Baptism, because the resurrection of Jesus means God has accepted the ultimate sacrifice upon the altar of the cross. It means we will be resurrected unto the same eternal life, as was our LORD and divine Brother. Truly, truly, this is our witness; this is our joy.
Josh Radke is deacon at Hope Lutheran Church in Bangor, Maine, and is awaiting acceptance to Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary–St. Catharine’s Ontario. He is also the author of the historical-fantasy novel, Stitched Crosses: Crusade.