Best of The Pietist Schoolman: Expectation and Joy

Grünewald, Resurrection
Matthias Grünewald, “Resurrection,” from the Isenheim Altarpiece

While I wrap up grading, I’ll be sharing some highlights from this spring’s blogging, starting with this Easter Monday meditation.

“We celebrate Jesus’ resurrection as a message about our future with him in heaven,” wrote Roger Olson at his blog for Easter Sunday, “but we too often neglect the other dimension of Easter: that a new life can be experienced now even in the face of inevitable death.”

(Hey, have I mentioned that Roger will be the featured guest when our Pietist Schoolman Podcast debuts? We’ll post a preview episode this Thursday, then episode 1 with Roger will follow on the 16th. Back to the post…)

I borrowed some of Roger’s reflection earlier this morning, as a benediction to my presentation on Pietism and Christian higher education to the faculty of Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana. We had already talked about “the new life” as a Pietist distinctive with obvious implications for a model of education that promises something like conversion, one that produces persons marked by certain Christ-like virtues and prepared for service to a world being made new. So I appreciated how Roger played out the meaning of resurrection for how we live right now:

What is that new life now? What is the message of the resurrection for our present—beyond hope for a final triumph over death in the future?

It is, in a word, “joy.” Not just the joy of celebration that Jesus is alive—which is plenty of reason for joy! It’s also a new sense of living in the midst of death, decay and destruction. It is not just “knowing” (mentally) that those do not have the final word because Jesus rose from the dead. It is also being transformed “inside”—in the inner center of the personality—away from gloom and fear and melancholy toward an exuberant disposition that wants to express itself outwardly.

While our book’s contributors tended to stress virtues like love, faith, humility, open-mindedness, truthfulness, and hospitality, Roger has me convinced that joy should be on that list. And that my own sanctification here is woefully incomplete, as I perpetually find myself grappling with fear, if not gloom or melancholy.

At the same time, it struck me that we were having our conversation on Easter Monday, not Sunday.

Easter Monday is that forgotten day of the church calendar seemingly dedicated to, well, getting on with our lives. It’s remarkable how quickly the joy of Easter — a festival celebrating the ultimate disruption of everything we think we know — dissolves into the mundane, predictable routine of the workweek. We have the day off at Bethel less because of any sacral significance than because we wanted to make sure that out-of-state students had the ability to travel home for Easter without missing class.

But we spend much our lives living in something more like Easter Monday than Easter Sunday: not unaware that the resurrection has happened or unmoved by it, but already turning away from that reality to confront — wearily, fearfully — the more immediate, seemingly more urgent concerns of our world. A world that — to most outward appearances — seems almost entirely, troublingly unchanged by what happened on Easter morning.

But, unwilling to let go of the hope that is, arguably, the defining virtue of Pietism, I closed our conversation with an excerpt from a sermon by the great 19th century neo-Pietist, Christoph Blumhardt.

Christoph Blumhardt
Christoph Blumhardt (1842-1919) – Christoph-Blumhardt-Haus

Let me share that benediction now with the readers of this blog, as a good word to send us forth into the extended Easter Monday of our lives: not fearful of the future or perpetually joyful, but living in what Blumhardt called “active expectation” that the Resurrection has left Creation profoundly changed. May you all, as he puts it, live in Jesus Christ’s future!

The Savior is coming! He is on the way to you, to me, to us all, in all circumstances of our lives. Even when things are as they were in Noah’s time, even if the whole world apparently is concerned with nothing but earthly things… we should not give up. We must be a living presence at all times. Our faith must be alive — a light of hope, a light in the midst of an indifferent world. It must be a light even in the midst of all the wonders of this world. We expect greater things than new technologies and inventions. We expect the overcoming of the powers of evil, of all the sin that still prevails. We expect the victory over all the misery that binds so many people, over all the evil and hostile powers that seek to torment us. This is our expectation. And this certainty will far surpass any apparent triumphs that the world flaunts through the work of its own hands.

In this expectation we will not become weary. In all our activities, we must live in Jesus Christ’s future.


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