Why do Christians worship on Sunday? The Sunday school answer, if you will forgive the cliché, is that Jesus was resurrected on Sunday; therefore, Christians gathered to celebrate their risen King on that day every week.
This answer, however, begs another question. Why was Jesus raised on a Sunday? To answer that, we must have some familiarity with the Jewish account of creation from Genesis 1. There we read of God ordering the cosmos in six days and resting on the seventh. This is where Jews find the basis for their practice of Sabbath—resting from work on the seventh day of the week. This text also identifies Sunday as the first day of God’s creative work. Here we discover the importance of Jesus’ Sunday resurrection. N. T. Wright explains:
“Easter [Sunday] functions as the beginning of the new creation. The Word through whom all things were made is now the Word through whom all things are remade. So far from being an odd or isolated supernatural event . . . Jesus’ resurrection is to be seen as the beginning of the new world, the first day of the new week, the unveiling of the prototype of what God is now going to accomplish in the rest of the world.”
Many Christians acknowledge that Jesus’ resurrection marked his victory over death and the ultimate validation of his divine identity. They also celebrate his resurrection as proof for their own belief in eternal life. Because of Jesus’ resurrection we can say with the apostle Paul, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” These understandings of the resurrection are certainly good and true, but we often fail to see beyond the individual implications of Easter Sunday. Seeking to correct this myopia, N. T. Wright points us to the cosmic scope of Jesus’ resurrection as inaugurating the re-creation of all things—an act that parallels God’s original creative work on the first Sunday in Genesis 1.
The bond between Easter Sunday and the re-creation of the cosmos is a truth rooted in the New Testament. In the same passage where Paul links Jesus’ resurrection with our individual hope for new life, 1 Corinthians 15, he also acknowledges its cosmic implications. Paul repeatedly refers to the risen Christ as the “firstfruits.” He means that Jesus’ resurrection is the start and the pattern for what is to follow; he is the first fruit picked in a much larger harvest that is now underway. To use Wright’s language, Jesus’ resurrection was the prototype for God’s new creative work. Paul splits this re-creation into three parts. Jesus has been raised first, he says, and “then at his coming those who belong to Christ” will be raised. Finally, all of God’s enemies will be destroyed, including death itself, and “all things” will be made subject to God.
Like the creation account in Genesis, which began but did not end on the first Sunday, God’s re-creation began on Easter Sunday with Jesus’ resurrection but continues to unfold. According to Paul’s logic in 1 Corinthians 15, re-creation began with Christ, flows to his church, and finds completion in the cosmos. The power of Christ’s resurrection that was unleashed on Easter will eventually bring new life to all of creation.
We discover this same pattern of rebirth (Christ – Church – Cosmos) in Romans 8. Speaking to Christians enduring hardship, Paul frames their suffering in light of what is to come:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:18-23)
Here we find a remarkable link between our coming resurrection, the “redemption of our bodies,” and the resurrection of creation itself. Paul acknowledges that while we have been reborn spiritually through faith in Christ, our physical rebirth is yet to come and will occur when Christ returns. But we are not the only ones longing for that day. Paul says the creation itself waits with eager longing because it, too, will be set free to share in the same freedom and glory we will experience.
Like Jesus and his people, the earth itself will be set free from sin, reconciled to God, and glorified. This is the great hope inaugurated on Easter Sunday that will find fulfillment on a coming day when all things are put under God’s rule and he is “all in all.” The world itself will be made new and heaven and earth united—the very image the apostle John saw when the holy city descended from heaven to earth in Revelation 21. We are not destined to occupy an ethereal heaven nor a replaced earth. The vision of the New Testament is the union of heaven and earth into a restored and glorified cosmos occupied by God and his people.
This remarkable idea is altogether different than the future envisioned by pop Christianity that sees only the souls of the redeemed being rescued off of a sinking world while the rest of creation is abandoned to destruction. What we find in the New Testament, however, is neither an unsatisfying nor limiting hope. We discover the hope of resurrection extending to all things—the entire cosmos that God created in the beginning and declared “good.” We find the message that Christ came not merely to save sinners from a doomed planet, but to rescue all that he created. As Paul wonderfully declared:
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:18-20)
So, as you prepare to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus this Easter, consider the full scope of his victory. He has not merely won a victory for himself over death, nor has he only rescued his people from the prison of sin. Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of the new creation—the remaking of all things—and he has invited you and me to join him in this glorious work.