N. T. Wright
(The article that follows is an edited version of the talk given by the Rt Revd N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, UK, at the TISCA North-East Regional Meeting. It appears here with the kind permission of both Bishop Wright and The Independent Schools Christian Alliance. Bishop Tom tells us that everything in this talk is taken from his book The Resurrection of the Son of God so you may wish to read the book after reading this article.)
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.... 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 " The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 54-58 (NIV)
1 Corinthians chapter fifteen is one of Paul's most massive and sprawling single arguments in all his letters, and verses 20-26 are the driving heart of it. Why does Paul begin that last verse with ‘Therefore’? He has been talking about the great future hope that stands before all those who belong to Christ, the hope of resurrection, the hope that God will make a new world and that we will be part of it. Most of us, faced with that, would say (with many of the Easter hymns): ‘Therefore lift up your heads and look forward, because we have a great future, and you are going to be part of God’s new creation.’ Paul doesn’t. He says: ‘Therefore get on with the job’. We are going to reflect later on the logic of that ‘Therefore’.
What do we mean by ‘resurrection’?
First I want to talk about the current confusion about ‘life after death’. In Cardinal Ratzinger's homily at the previous Pope’s funeral, he spoke about John Paul II and Jesus reaching out their hands and grasping one another, and how he was now upstairs and looking through the windows down on us; but I heard no mention of resurrection whatsoever. Then I went to an ecumenical memorial service in Newcastle Roman Catholic cathedral, where again there was no mention of resurrection. Why not? The answer is that most Christians have either forgotten about resurrection, or if they use the word 'resurrection' they use it to mean life after death, or going to heaven when you die.
Heaven is important, but it isn't the end of the world! There is a future immediately after death promised to those who belong to Christ: Paul says 'My desire is to depart and to be with Christ, for that is far better' (Phil 1:23). But later on in the same letter (3:20-21) he talks not about being with Christ in some departed post-mortem state, but about being raised and given a new body in a post-post-mortem state. As New Testament Christians we are not taught much about life after death, but we are taught a great deal about life after life after death. I've said that in lecture rooms and churches, and I've had puzzled looks: 'What on earth is he talking about?'
What the ancient world meant by 'resurrection'
Any first-century Jew would have told you that 'the hope of resurrection' is not a nice way of saying 'dying and going to heaven'. The resurrection hope in ancient Judaism was that, some period after dying, wherever we have been meanwhile, God is going to make new heavens and a new earth and will give us new bodies to inhabit that new world. The ancient pagans too knew what the word meant. They didn't believe in resurrection - once you're dead you're dead, nobody comes back again - but they knew it meant 'standing up again' (anastasis): a body waking up again, a new bodily life.
Coming back from the dead doesn't happen
The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was a pagan demonstration of how ridiculous resurrection was. Eurydice dies and goes down to the underworld. Orpheus is told that he is allowed (remarkably) to go down and bring her out; but he must not look back over his shoulder as they're walking up the long pathway, otherwise she'll go back to Hades for ever. And of course his longing to see his beloved gets too much for him, so he looks back - and she's gone. (I came across a feminist rewrite of that in which Eurydice was whispering sweet nothings to Orpheus all the way, in order to make him look back, because the last thing she wanted was a man in her life!)
That story is saying: we can imagine somebody coming back from the dead but we know it doesn't happen. Ancient tombstones have inscriptions saying: I WAS NOT, I WAS, I AM NOT, I DON'T CARE (non fui, fui, non sum, non euro); and that's a very typical attitude today. 'I came into this world, I've gone again, tough, big deal, get used to it' - a hard-nosed paganism. So the ancient pagans knew that there was such an idea as resurrection, but they all rubbished it: Homer, Aeschylus, Pliny the Elder all say 'it doesn't happen'. Everybody in the ancient world knew that dead bodies don't rise, just as everybody in the modern world does. It's part of the modernist myth that we have learned things like that recently and can therefore disprove the old stories. But we did not need Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Rousseau, Voltaire to tell us that dead bodies don't rise.
What the first Christians and their contemporaries believed about resurrection
The early Christians knew as well as we do that dead people don't rise, but they were saying that in this occurrence something totally unprecedented had in fact happened. Some ancient Jews too believed in resurrection, like the Pharisees, partly because they were a hardline revolutionary pressure-group who wanted God to make a new world, and the people who died in the process would be vindicated: when God finally made the new world, the martyrs would be raised to life to enjoy it. So they are 'dead' at the moment ('life after death'), but they will rise again when God finally brings in his kingdom and makes everything wonderful, ('life after life after death'). It is very clear both in the Christian writings and in the rabbis: you are dead for a period of time, and then God will make the new world and raise his people to new bodily life. That is what 'resurrection' meant and means.
If you read Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20-21, they none of them say: Jesus Christ is risen, therefore there is a life after death and we're going to it. What they say is, Jesus has been raised from the dead, therefore God's new world has begun, and we have a job to do to make it happen. God's new world has begun, new creation has happened – something has occurred which means that the great door of cosmic history has swung open on its hinges, and we're invited not only to go through it ourselves, hut to be people through whom the world is set free from its bondage to decay, as Paul said in Romans 8, to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
So we see in the passage above (v23), 'Each in his own turn: Christ the firstfruits, then when he comes those who belong to Christ.' There's so much fuzzy thinking about where the dead are now; but the New Testament's view is pretty simple: the dead in Christ are with Christ, they are not yet raised from the dead, God has not yet remade the cosmos as he intends to. Romans 8:18-25 is absolutely central to New Testament theology: the creation, the whole cosmos, will be set free, will be liberated. God will do for the entire creation at the end what he did for Jesus on Easter morning, and part of that deal is that those in whom the Spirit dwells in the present will be given new bodily life.
We are not talking about a resuscitated corpse
What Paul then does in 1 Corinthians 15 is to spell out in considerable detail, more than we find anywhere else in the NT, what the new body will be like. Whenever I talk or debate about the resurrection, somebody will say, 'How can you say you believe in a resuscitated corpse?' I say, 'I don't believe in a resuscitated corpse!' That's not what's going on. Lazarus (John 11) came back into the same life after dying: he had to die again, and indeed there were some who were determined that he should do so sooner rather than later, because he was a nuisance piece of evidence. The widow's son at Nain would have to die again; Jairus' daughter would have to die again: they came back into this life. But Paul is quite emphatic elsewhere in his writings: 'Christ once raised from the dead never dies again - death has no more dominion over him' (Romans 6:9). He's gone through death and out the other side, into a new kind of physicality.
Finding words to describe the new physicality
That was the hardest thing when I was writing my book on the resurrection, to talk about the new kind of physicality. And it's hard for two principal reasons: firstly, because it is difficult to talk about something of which there's only one example. When we talk about physicality we think in terms of science, repeatable experiments and so on; science studies the repeatable, history studies the unrepeatable. So it's hard simply because we don't have language for that. Ed Sanders, one of the great liberal biblical scholars of our day, concluded one of his discussions of the resurrection narratives by saying: 'It looks as though they were struggling to find words for something which they badly wanted to say but for which there wasn't very good language at the time.' There's a mystery about it.
The strangeness of the risen Jesus
The disciples on the road to Emmaus don't recognise him. And I don't think that's because their eyes are miraculously held: it's because there's something strange about him. Think about that passage in John 21, when Jesus tells them where to fish and they suddenly catch this miraculous great draught of fish - and then they come to shore and Jesus is cooking breakfast, and John says 'None of them dared ask him "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.' It's an extraordinary thing to say. They've been with this man for the last three years, night and day - they know him intimately. And yet they want to ask him, 'Who are you?' but they don't dare because they know. There is something transformed about Jesus, something different -something the same and yet renewed.
Paul's use of analogies
And that's precisely what Paul is getting at when he asks in vv 35-49: ‘How are the dead raised? With what body do they come?’' Paul reaches for analogies and examples: it's like sowing a seed in the ground - the tree that comes up both is and isn't the same thing as the seed. He's not saying that the resurrection body grows out of the corpse in the same way that a tree or a shrub grows out of a seed; he's saying there is continuity and discontinuity. And then he says there are astral bodies like stars, there are bodies in the sea like fish - what he's doing is creating a hermeneutical space to say there are different kinds of physicality. This new kind of physicality is continuous with the old but transformed. In particular, it is a body that is no longer mortal in the sense of being able to die - it is not perishable any more, it can't suffer any more. It is a new sort of body.
'Spiritual' doesn't mean 'non-physical'
The second reason why this is difficult comes in v44, where the NIV RSV and NRSV make the same mistake in translating 'It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body'. (If you want to get inside Paul, use almost any translation other than the NIV especially in Romans and Galatians.) The problem is that many writers, teachers and theologians of the last generation have argued that if it's a spiritual body it must be a non-physical body. I Cor 15 is the earliest piece of writing we've got about the resurrection (Paul is writing within 25 years or so whereas the gospels are written down later). Later they had these rather physical stories about Jesus eating broiled fish and breaking bread. But (the argument runs) the earliest Christian belief did not necessitate an empty tomb, because it's just a spiritual body- therefore it's not physical.
Our culture is still so soaked in Platonism that we assume 'spiritual' means 'non-physical' - it has left behind this world of shadows and illusions, and things you can touch and see and put into test tubes, and it's gone into the realm of pure spirit. That's not what Paul is saying. The two adjectives he uses, here translated 'natural' and 'spiritual', are psychikos and pneumatikos. Psychikos actually means 'soulish', in other words it is 'natural' in the sense that this is the ordinary human life. It certainly doesn't mean 'physical' as opposed to 'spiritual', which is what the RSV says.
Not what it's made of, but what it's animated by
Now for a fact of Greek grammar. These adjectives are the type ending in -ikos, which tell you not what something is made of but what it is animated by. To ask 'Is the boat you bought last week a sailboat or a motorboat?' is asking what's driving this boat, what it is animated by - as opposed to asking whether it is made of fibreglass or wood. These adjectives are not telling you what the new body is made of, but what is animating it. Paul's point is this: the body we currently have, which is decaying and will die, is presently animated by what we can loosely call the psyche, the life, the soul, the inner person that we currently are. But the new body will be animated by pneuma, by God's Spirit: as Paul says clearly in Romans 8:11, 'If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then the one who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells within you.'
Resurrection means bodies
In other words, the gift of the Holy Spirit in the present is the guarantee of our resurrection in the future. There's the continuity. Yes, Paul says it's a spiritual body - it's a transformed body animated and driven by the Spirit - yet it is still physical, and if it wasn't, nobody in the ancient world would ever have used the word 'resurrection' to describe what was going on. Resurrection meant bodies, that's just the way it was and is. So this generates a worldview which is frustratingly different from the one that many Christians implicitly slide into, where the question is simply 'How do you get to go to heaven when you die?' So they find in Matthew's gospel (which they read when they open the New Testament) 'Do this and that and the other so that you may enter the kingdom of heaven', and they assume that this means going to a place called heaven which is the place where God's people live with him after they die. It's not what that means at all. We are called to pray that the kingdom of heaven (which is a periphrasis for the kingdom of God in the New Testament) will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Heaven and earth overlap and interlock
The whole point is that heaven and earth are overlapping and interlocking in a quite new way, and we are invited to be part of its family and to pray that that interlocking will happen. In ancient Jewish thought the Temple is the place where heaven and earth overlap, and the Torah, the Jewish law, is the overlapping point between heaven and earth, as is Wisdom as well. These all come rushing together in the New Testament in a quite new way, and Jesus taught us to pray that that will be fulfilled - that heaven and earth would come to belong with one another, and that that would happen as the result of his own work.
The new Jerusalem coming down from heaven
The last great scene in the Bible, at the end of Revelation, is not human beings, souls perhaps, being taken off up to a distant disembodied heaven, but the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, so that the dwelling of God is with humans. Then he will wipe away all tears from their eyes. That is the promise of the New Testament, and we have sold that, including (alas) many evangelical Christians, for easy-going talk about a resurrection that simply means a new life after death. We need to be more robust, and it's tough, because many people in our churches, schools, colleges, not only don't believe this, but have never heard it! And yet it's what the New Testament says on page after page, it's what the early Fathers such as Justin and Irenaeus said again and again in the second century, to the point where the resurrection is one of the key things that the pagan world noticed and got cross about.
What the early Christians were known for
I find this fascinating. In the works of Galen, the great doctor in the late second century, there's a fragment where he says that he knows only two things about this funny little group called the Christians: one is that they believe in the resurrection of the body, and the other is that they are not sexually immoral. Wouldn't it be nice if the Christian church were known again as people who believe in the resurrection and who don't sleep around! That was the thing which stuck out - anti of course to the rest of the pagan world these things were totally absurd: nobody believed in resurrection and everybody was sexually immoral - that was just normal pagan behaviour.
The martyrs at Lyon
The other thing which is fascinating is that towards the end of the second century in AD 177 the martyrs of Lyon had been preaching about the resurrection, and when the pagans got them and put them to death, they burnt them and scattered their ashes into the River Rhone so that they could say: 'Now see what's going to happen with the resurrection! What's God going to do now if your body has been totally destroyed?' Yet Irenaeus, who came from Rome to take over as bishop in Lyon after 177, went on preaching and teaching the resurrection.
Resurrection is subversive
This is powerful stuff, and the reason for this is that resurrection remains subversive. Who was it that didn't like the idea of resurrection in the NT? It was the Sadducees, not because they were the liberals but because they were the conservatives. We tend to think it's the liberal theologians who deny the resurrection, but in those days it was the conservatives, because resurrection was a new-fangled idea which those dangerous Pharisees were into. Resurrection is believing that God is going to turn everything upside down and inside out, and then those who are truly loyal to him now will come out on the right side. The Sadducees, who were in powder, didn't want God to turn the world upside down and inside out. Resurrection is bad news for people who've got a major vested interest in keeping the old world the way it is, run by the rules that it's got.
'I permit nobody to raise the dead!'
Oscar Wilde's play Salome makes this point exactly. Herod Antipas hears about Jesus of Nazareth going around curing the deaf and the dumb, and making the lame to walk and the blind to see and all of this, and he is quite excited and interested: but when the messenger says '... And he raises the dead!' Herod immediately goes into blustering mode: 'I permit nobody to raise the dead! This man must be found and stopped - he must be told that it is completely forbidden to raise the dead!' Herod knows that if there is somebody going around for whom death is not the last word, then the tyrant's great weapon is no longer as relevant as it was - death is what the tyrant rules by, and if there is somebody going around raising the dead, the tyrant starts shivering in his shoes.
Resurrection is political
So resurrection from the first has always been very closely allied to the Christian belief that Jesus is Lord and therefore Caesar isn't, and one of the real tasks of the church in this generation is hearing this again in ways that we can actually make sense of and do business with. Instead of either collapsing into a sort of Christian version of Sixties radicalism, or going back to the Enlightenment which says that religion and politics are about two totally different things (which nobody in the New Testament period would ever have imagined), we need to see that resurrection is about the living God breaking into our world and making a new creation, and then entrusting to us the power and the message through which that new creation comes into being.
'Left Behind': a critique
How do we then talk Christianly and think wisely about the future? C.S.Lewis' children's stories nurtured our imagination when we were growing up, and have given us imaginative tools with which to probe Christian truth, and to imagine a world where that Christian truth is central and vital and indeed true, instead of wacky and off the side somewhere However, the 'Left Behind' series, which has been so popular over the last ten years in America and to a lesser extent in Britain, isn't doing the same thing: it’s fantasy all right, but the novels are playing into a dualistic way of construing the Christian message. According to them, the only thing we really want to happen is for God to rescue his people away from this present wicked world by rapturing them up to heaven, so that the wicked world can then spin off into darkness and chaos and Armageddon, while the rest of us sit upstairs watching. This is all based, of course, on those few verses in which do talk about the saints being caught up in the clouds ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It's one of Paul's many varied metaphors: Paul no more thinks of that being taken literally than he does in the next chapter, when he says all in the same breath that the woman is going into labour so that you mustn't fall asleep or get drunk but you must put on your armour. This is a vivid and imaginative way of talking, which he doesn't intend us to take literally.
God intends to redeem the present world
It's a worldview issue. If you believe that the present world is basically bad and that God is going to reject it, and that the main thing is to be snatched away to a distant heaven where you will stay for ever, then what's the point of doing anything to improve the way the world is now? God is going to destroy it anyway, so who cares? That thesis is argued explicitly in some parts of our world today. But according to the New Testament God has much better plans than that. God made a beautiful world - the article of faith which says that God is the good Creator of the whole world of heaven and earth is basic to all Judaism and Christianity. God does not intend that this world should stew in its own juice - God intends to redeem it, to remake it and to claim it back as his own, until (as Isaiah says) 'The earth shall be full of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea'. Similarly the Temple is the house which God comes and fills with his presence, and the point of that promise is that the whole creation is to become the temple of God's glory, and that is what the end of Revelation is all about.
Thinking new creation
Our imaginations have become so shrunk that we've forgotten that whole element of the gospel. We need to be thinking big, thinking 'new creation' all the time - that's what history is all about - and then the resurrection makes sense within that. If you simply have an eschatology with some people going upstairs and some people going downstairs, what's the resurrection about? Where does that happen? What will it look like? If instead you say, 'God is going to remake heaven and earth, and they will be one', then there will be a new world in which we will be called to be not only citizens but God's stewards, human beings put in charge of the garden and of the animals, as in the first chapter of Genesis. Within that bigger picture we can make sense of the language of Jesus' second coming.
Making sense of the Second Coming
The Second Coming is so often thought of in terms of Jesus the spaceman, Jesus a long way away, Jesus out there somewhere 'coming back' as though by some long journey. But the New Testament also uses the language of 'appearing', and I find that more initially helpful. Of course, there is a sense of Jesus' absence at the moment, a strange presence but also an absence, so that if he is then to be present it would be because he has (as it were) 'arrived'. But the New Testament sees it as heaven and earth being the twin overlapping spheres of God's reality. Heaven is God's sphere, earth is our sphere. At the moment the still human, still physically resurrected Jesus is in God's sphere in heaven - but where is heaven? Not a million miles up in the sky, but a dimension of reality which intersects with our reality, which is close and yet elusive, as though it's behind an invisible curtain. One day the curtain will be drawn back, and then we will be aware of the personal presence of Jesus, because that is the moment when heaven and earth will be joined.
So the New Testament speaks about his 'appearing', for instance in Col 3:4 and 1 Jn 3:2: 'We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.' I find that a much easier way to communicate the fact that one day Jesus will be with us again, than it is to imagine the world simply rumbling on as it is at present, and one day Jesus coming and then (as some of the hymns erroneously say) scooping us up and taking us off back to heaven again. No! He comes back to reign over the new creation which is already his by right.
Taking death seriously
See what happens if we don't do this. Death is 'the last enemy'; yet how many of you have been to a funeral where that awful piece by Henry Scott Holland is being read: 'Death is nothing at all, I've just slipped off into the next room, think of me, speak of me just as you always did, its perfectly OK, I'm just next door, nothing's changed.' It's not only a lie, it's a pastorally very damaging lie. If somebody tries to believe that and then lives for even a day or a week with real grief, they will go into much deeper denial than they would have done anyway. Death is an enemy, not a friend to be colluded with. The resurrection is not about finding a fancy way of saying 'This person has died, but it's all right, they've been resurrected'. No, resurrection is the defeat of death, not its redescription. Resurrection is saying that death does not have the last word, not because we go off into a Platonic heaven but because one day we will have a new physicality, transformed physical bodies, in God's new world.
What happens in-between?
So when we think about the new creation (which we're still waiting for), the Second Coming and our resurrection, the natural question is 'What about the people who have died in between?' That is a question the New Testament (interestingly) does not often address. But when it does, it seems to be abundantly clear that certain options that have reared their head from time to time within the Christian tradition are ruled out. Do people go straight to be with Jesus, or do they have to do a period of clean-up first? One of my colleagues and I have endless arguments about this - he believes staunchly in Purgatory, because when we die we have a bit of ourselves which is still sinful and messy and muddled, and we're going to have to have some clean-up done which may take some time, before we're finally fitted for the presence of God. According to the New Testament, it's death itself that finishes all that is presently sinful and evil in us. This was the great argument that the early English reformers launched against the sixteenth century doctrine of Purgatory. Then we are able to go into God's presence in Christ, however you want to conceive that - and that's another place we don't have good language for.
Are we allowed to grieve?
John Polkinghorne, the great Cambridge physicist and theologian, uses a contemporary metaphor which does the business as well as any other: 'God will download our software onto his hardware, until the day when he gives us new hardware to run the software.' Fine - you need to say something like that in order to get the sense of a two-stage future. But that enables you to say that death really does matter; it is a real loss. When you go to a funeral and say goodbye, grief is not only nothing to be ashamed of, it is totally and utterly appropriate. Paul says 'I don't want you to grieve like those who have no hope' (1 Thess 4:13) - he doesn't say 'I don't want you to grieve', he says 'I don't want you to have the hopeless sort of grief’. The other sort of grief is still grief, and it's still very painful and takes ages to work through, but it's a grief full of hope. And the hope is not simply that we're 'going to heaven', though it's fine if you want to use that language of the interim state: it is the hope for the final ultimate state.
Are there gradations of saints in heaven?
So I don't believe in purgatory; nor do I believe that there are some Christians who have already (as it were) made it to a position of superior spiritual eminence in the presence of Christ, in a way that other Christians who have died haven't. According to the New Testament all those who have died in Christ are with Christ on (if you like) the same level. I see no reason to suppose that there are gradations and hierarchies. That's why All Saints' Tide for me is a wonderful time for celebrating everybody, from Mary the Mother of the Lord right through to the Christian friend who died last week - all the saints are there, all together. So I think that to make any division between All Saints, when we celebrate the good and famous ones, and All Souls when we commemorate the people we have known, whom we think may still need some help to get out of jail free, is total anathema. I'm not saving anything that I haven't said in print already, but it is controversial in many quarters.
What you do in the present has significance
So I come back to the initial question: why does Paul say 'Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain'? In the light of what God is going to do in the future, you can see the significance of what you are called to do in the present. Because the point is this: if God is not going to throw the present world away, but is going to redeem it, then what you do by way of redeeming work now will count in God's new world. I'm not saying that we build the kingdom of God simply by our own efforts here - but nor do we sit back with nothing to do until God does it all at the end.
Carving stones for a great cathedral
It is as though we have been given specific tasks to do, like people carving stone for a great cathedral that they haven't yet seen the plans for (well, they've had a glimpse of them). I've been given this bit of stone to work on; I don't know where it's going to go in the building, but my task is to get on and shape this bit, yours is to do that bit, yours is to work on the stained glass, and one day as a fresh gift of grace the architect will put together his new creation and it will include the symphony that you wrote to God's glory, the prayer that you prayed with someone who was dying, the community that you built. It does take imagination - well, it would, wouldn't it? - to think of God's new world. Somehow, in ways that take a great deal of imagination, we are called to do things in the present which will in the end be seen to be part of God's eventual kingdom: and that is the point of the resurrection.
We are called to live between two futures
The resurrection is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the reaffirmation within that of all that has been done to God's glory within the present creation. Because it's not only heaven and earth that overlap, it is the present time and the future time. With Jesus' resurrection, God's future has arrived in the present, and we are called to live (as Paul says in vv 20-26) between Future Mark 1 and Future Mark 2. Christ is risen already, the new creation has begun: and we are called by the Spirit to be agents of new creation in the present, in what we do in our own personal lives, in our work, in our cultural activities or whatever, not only to anticipate the future but to bring more of that future into the present.
'Therefore be steadfast, immovable.' This is the message of Easter: get on with the work you've been called to do. Because you are not oiling the wheels of a machine that is then going to fall over the cliff, you are actually doing things that will last, things that are 'not in vain'.
I love the end of the Gospel of John for all sorts of reasons. One of the most fascinating and haunting things about it is its incompleteness, its open-endedness: Jesus says to Peter, ápropos of the beloved disciple who is following him: 'If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me.’ And then there are just a couple more lines and we're done. There's a sense of somebody having thrown open a door on a glorious new day, with a whole world left to explore and discover and work in, and we feel the music just going off, and we're thinking - 'now what's going to happen?'
And the answer is, God is at work by his Spirit, and you are to work with him in making a new world.