Church: Vanguard of the New Creation

Church: Vanguard of the New Creation

On Easter morning the Christian Church will shout, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” This spine-tingling confession is brimming with hope, not merely for death-weary people yearning for life, but for the sin-gripped earth groaning for liberty. Truly, our Easter cry has cosmic significance. Our task in these paragraphs is to begin to appreciate how.  
We begin with Scripture’s great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15. There Paul argues in meticulous detail and with impassioned force that Christ indeed has been bodily resurrected. Then, in verse 20, he calls Jesus “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Within these words are the promise and guarantee of our bodily resurrection!
We might compare firstfruits to end rows in a corn field. The end rows open the harvest. Once the end rows are opened, the harvest has begun and joy and anticipation quicken our hearts and brighten our spirits. The firstfruits were, likewise, the opening of the harvest, the very guarantee of the harvest’s ingathering.
And Paul is announcing to the world that Christ’s resurrection has opened the resurrection of the dead. He’s the end row, the firstfruits, of the resurrection. In His bodily resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. His bodily resurrection is the guarantee that death will die, the guarantee that we will be reunited with the dead who have died in the faith, and the guarantee that our bodies will be finally and fully liberated from sin’s deathly curse.
But the significance and implications stretch beyond us. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 8:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (19-21).
Notice what Paul is saying: creation is waiting on the edge of its seat for the revealing of the inheritors of the kingdom (the sons of God) in the resurrection of the dead because that will mean its liberation from sin’s death grip. And Christ’s resurrection is the inauguration of our resurrection and creation’s liberation! The rescue mission has begun!
C.S. Lewis masterfully captured the idea in his essay “The Grand Miracle”: “God has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulder.” He then adds, “The miracles that have already happened, are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on.” We may view Christ’s resurrection, then, as the courageous crocus blooming through winter’s long-lingering snow, announcing winter’s loosening grip before summer’s approaching life-giving warmth. Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of the new creation! It has begun!
And we have been baptized into it! Paul writes in Romans 6,
We were buried… with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (4-5).
Paul spells out the implications in 2 Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (5:17). To put this another way, the baptized have been connected to Christ’s death and resurrection; they were taken down with Him and brought up on His shoulders to live as His new creation people now, even as they eagerly await their bodily resurrection upon Christ’s return.
And that means Christ’s Church, by virtue of its connection to Christ, is the vanguard of the new creation. Through old creation elements of water, grain, and grapes, God has connected us to Christ and brought us into His new creation and established us as forerunners and harbingers of the approaching resurrection of the dead and renewal of all creation. Our Easter cry announces to the world that the new creation has dawned in Christ’s resurrection. It is upon us!
And this means that Christ’s gospel not only absolves sins, but announces liberty to creation. The great salvation of God is not limited to souls – God’s salvation envelops our souls, our bodies, the earth, even the far reaches of the cosmos! As Dr. Charles Arand, professor of theology at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and head of The Center for Care of Creation, writes, “Jesus came to reclaim and restore his entire creation as the Lord of creation. He does so by beginning with where the problem of creation’s ruin began, namely, with us.” 
Having made us new, Christ’s gospel reorients our relationship to creation in Christ and equips us with a message and a mission of renewal. The earth will be made new. Our world of wounds will be healed and made whole – from the grieving widow to the endangered species, from the financially stressed farmer to the polluted waterways. It has begun in the Church! Christ’s cross and resurrection have cosmic implications. The Creator has entered His creation to rescue and renew it!   
So we move into creation with appreciative wonder and responsive care. We see the splendor of His handiwork even as we hear creation’s pained groaning. The resurrection of Jesus, as the inauguration of the new creation, moves us into creation as caregivers and advocates. So, we become aware of our place, of our creational surrounding. Where is the groaning? How can we bring renewal? How can we bring healing? How can we care for Christ’s creation?
Creation care is the Church’s responsibility as the vanguard of the new creation. For too long Christians have viewed environmental concerns as un-spiritual. The resurrection insists otherwise. The Spirit who brooded over creation’s waters reasserts God’s care for creation in Christ’s resurrection. In Christianity, spirituality doesn’t mean non-physical; it means the renewal of God’s physical creation. Creation care is spiritual.
On April 21, the Church’s Easter cry will echo throughout the world. As you participate in that echo, celebrate its cosmic significance and your inclusion in the vanguard of Christ’s new creation. – Pastor Conner

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