Today is a day celebrated unlike any other amongst the Christian community. Today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
It is a story we know, oh, so well. Maybe we’re too familiar? I mean, we do know what all the fuss is about now.
Perhaps we could try and get in the shoes of the original disciples, to feel their devastation and disillusionment. Because that is part of the Easter story. Complete dejection that their hopes and dreams had fallen flat on their face, only to see the resurrected one come alive. If only we could feel something of what they felt without knowing the end of the story. Just like The Lord of the Rings might take on a whole different meaning if we were not sure Frodo would make it to Mount Doom to throw the ring into the molten lava.
And while the resurrection story readily reaches us two millennia later, we must remember it took some time for the message to ring across Palestine of the first century. Many would have been lamenting with the psalmist of Psalm 13 – How long, oh Lord? Will you forget me forever?
So how does this Easter story still catch us off guard? How does it throw us for a loop? Because that’s what happened long ago. Nothing played out as they imagined.
Well, we don’t have to go looking for some odd tidbit to proclaim just so we gain the corner market on something new. There are plenty of folk employing this measure on a regular basis. But we must truly believe this resurrection account of the Christ should catch us off guard in some form or fashion, should both dash our hopes and then revitalize them with something more unique than first imagined. At least that was the effect 2000 years ago.
That happened for me this morning. Something crept up a little unexpectedly.
It might not strike you as anything significant, but I’ll share because I believe the picture is worth noting.
The proclamation we have is this: When Jesus rose from the dead, the people of God were ensured that death had been defeated. Christ conquered death and the grave, being the firstborn from among the dead. And, in a little (or significant!) encounter between Christ and John, in the Revelation of John, we’re given these words:
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17-18)
There’s a phrase in there that’s never really hit me before – the keys of death and Hades (or the grave).
Yes, I’ve known it’s there. But it never meant much anything until today.
This morning, as we gathered together with the congregation in worship, singing a line connected to this truth, a picture of keys was continually pressed upon my mind.
I began to ponder what keys are all about. I realized they are represent authority and ownership. Whatever I have a key to, I generally own that item. My house and my car are the two that come to mind first of all. And even if I don’t own what I have a key to, I at least have been entrusted with stewardship of that item – an office comes to mind here.
So keys speak of authority and ownership. For Jesus to have the keys of death and Hades, what we are being told is that Jesus was now in charge of these two. Even more, the resurrection means Jesus has robbed death and the grave of its ownership over the people of God. Hence, we share in his life and will, too, one day be resurrected. He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep; we will follow.
And so I began to think what this means for us in our lives today. In it all, I sensed the call of laying out our keys before Christ. Such would be a practical, yet bold, declaration that Christ has ownership over everything foundational to our lives today: our homes (representative of our families), our offices (representative of our work and livelihood), our cars (representative of regular daily movement in the modern world), and I’m sure there are other keys of which we could speak.
That’s how God tends to work – making the eternal known through tangible means. The divine becomes flesh, the sacrifice is remembered through bread and wine, new life is celebrated through the waters of baptism, the word of God assembled in holy Scripture, the birds of the air and lilies of the field given to remind us not to worry, and so on. God is very “earthy!”
So now we have our set of keys right in front of our eyes, or in our pockets or hanging on the key rack, to remind us of resurrection life through Christ’s authority over death and the grave. And when we look at our own set of keys – for we will have the opportunity to look at them, touch them, clank them together – we will be reminded of the call we’ve been given in Christ that he has ownership over all, over everything foundational to our lives.
This is no mere sappy devotion. Holy weekend is a weekend that changed the course of history. This is the gospel of the resurrection life of God in Christ. And as Christ took they keys of death and Hades so long ago, he now calls for all keys everywhere. They all belong unto him. Don’t hold those keys tightly.
“Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”