Easter: We Rest Now, Awaiting Our Final Rest
Last week I reflected on one of my favourite speeches: two minutes of existential comedy from the brilliant Jim Carrey. In it he refers to life as a “terrible search” for when we will finally feel like we’re enough—when we’ll have accomplished or experienced enough to satisfy us. However, as Carrey continues, most of us are aware that this search is hauntingly unending. We know it won’t fulfil us. As one translation of Augustine’s Confessions reads: “Our hearts are restless.” In this post I will present why I believe Easter holds the answer to the that restlessness we all know.
“Where Shall I Find Rest?”
This idea of existential restlessness—or rest—was a major component of my Masters dissertation. More importantly, it’s also something that Frodo grapples with in J. R. R. Tolkien’s theological masterpiece: The Lord Of The Rings.
Towards the end of Tolkien’s novel, standing on the banks of the Bruinen River before leaving Rivendell, Frodo and Gandalf have a stirring conversation. Though the One Ring had been destroyed and Middle-earth was safe, Frodo had suffered wounds that Gandalf tells him will not heal with time. He would carry the burden of the One Ring for the rest of his life.
This moves Frodo to muse, “There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden.” He then asks, “Where shall I find rest?” Frodo’s question, presupposed in Carrey’s speech, is one most of us push away: ‘Where will I find rest?’ Yet when we pause long enough from our frenetic lives and unceasing pursuits we realise that rest is something we desperately long for. We crave it. So where can we find it?
To some degree, Frodo does ‘go back.’ Like his uncle Bilbo Baggins, he returns to the Shire where he enjoys familiar comforts after his arduous quest. But here he learns that true rest is not ultimately found in going back. There is another rest, ahead. This is why at the close of Lord Of The Rings, both Frodo and Bilbo sail into the West, leaving Middle-earth forever. The rest that the hobbits enjoy upon returning to the Shire is at most an interim rest and reprieve. But Frodo’s wounds and suffering anticipate another rest—in the future.
Easter Depicts Two Rests
Now let’s come back to my dissertation, which I hope to tie into Easter. Throughout my research I found the distinction between an interim and ultimate rest both unavoidable and useful. Christians experience a kind of rest in the present, while another promised rest awaits them in the future.
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus calls those burdened by this life and its labours to come to him. He offers rest, in himself, through trust. Evidently, this rest is enjoyed by those who approach Christ in the present. Those who come to Christ experience rest now. They begin to enjoy the promises and salvation of God, before the culmination of that same salvation. As Karl Barth writes, “Christ is the hidden home at the beginning and end of our journey.”
On Good Friday, we celebrate the beginning of that journey. It is an invitation from Christ to rest in him (Matthew 11:29).
Yet like Frodo our lives are still beset with restlessness. Thus we can distinguish between an experience of rest along the way and another that is only found beyond the fray. As I argued in my dissertation, I don’t think it is an oversimplification to read Matthew 11 as emphasising believers’ present rest in Christ; whereas Hebrews 3-4 is more concerned with the future moment when believers enter into their ultimate rest, at the consummation.
In some ways Easter weekend contains both of these parts: resting presently in Christ and the hope of final rest with God in the future. Tomorrow, Jesus invites us to come give up our labours and experience relief from our burdens (Matthew 11:28). Here we find rest for our souls (Matthew 11:29). As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it: we receive and rest in Christ for our righteousness (11.1-2). In the words of Jim Carrey, this is the verdict each of us longs for more than anything else. In Christ, God says we are enough. So rest and delight in him.
“Strive To Enter That Rest”
While faith in Christ is the end of our search for rest, it is only the beginning of the story—as C. S. Lewis so wonderfully puts it. So the author of Hebrews writes, “The promise of entering God’s rest still stands” (Hebrews 4:1), “it remains for some to enter it” (Hebrews 4:6). “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11).
If Good Friday speaks a reassuring word of comfort, issuing God’s gracious invitation to rest in Christ’s work, Easter Sunday reminds us that this is not the end of the story. The resurrection is yet to come. God’s promised rest, the end of all searching and longing, of suffering and despair, still awaits us. On Easter Sunday we look forward, anticipating that glorious day with faith.