“I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the age to come. Amen.”
– the Nicene Creed
The Nicene Creed was a gift of the fourth-century church and represents their memory of the gospel of Jesus Christ, delivered through the apostles to all those who would confess their faith at baptism and in the weekly celebration of Christ’s resurrection.
In my private prayer life, I’ve endeavored (imperfectly) to pray the creed daily as a personal confession of faith before God, and as a professional theologian, as a means to quality control in my both writing and teaching. Would that those who’ve accused me of heresy through the years would do the same. They might discover that far from restrictive, the “symbol of faith” (as it’s called) affirms both our minimal dogmatic foundations and allows for tremendous freedom of thought and conviction thereafter.
For example, note how the above lines—the concluding words of the creed—offer no particular doctrine of hell in the afterlife. Earlier, we read that Christ will “judge the living and the dead,” but is silent as to the nature of that judgment.
But what struck me this week during worship and in conversations with my godfather (David Goa) was the NOW element of those final lines.
Of course, one way to read these lines would be, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and I look forward to the life of the age to come.” That would address the legitimate longing for “the resurrection of the body” mentioned in the Latin West’s “Apostles’ Creed.” I get that.
Or we could read these lines as saying, “I am watching for the resurrection of the dead and I am watching for the life of the age to come,” in the sense of the faithful servants who are watchful and attentive, ready for the Lord to return at any time. Also totally legitimate.
But today I read it with the Jesus of John’s Gospel in mind. When Christ speaks of either perishing or eternal life in the Gospel of John, he is not referring to a heaven and hell afterlife. Rather, God sent his Son into a world already perishing to announce eternal life now, defined as knowing “the only true God and Jesus Christ, who he has sent” (John 17:3). And yes, we believe in the resurrection of the dead in an ultimate sense, but “resurrection life” is also to be experienced now in our communion with God and with one another in every act of loving presence and every exchange of grace in this life.
Now I come back to my confession: “I look for the resurrection of the dead,” not just in the imminent return of Christ or at the final resurrection (John 5:25), but I’m to look “look for the resurrection” this very day, all around me, among my loved ones and in my community. Where is “resurrection life” shining in this age.
Further, “I look for the life of the age to come,” as it breaks into the here and now. As Paul once said, “We are those upon whom ‘the end of the age’ HAS come” (1 Cor. 10:11). So again, I’m not only anticipating the age to come when it comes… I’m alert to who the age to come will show up today in my life, in others who are looking for it, and even in those for whom it’s a complete surprise.
Lord, today, open the eyes of my heart to behold the resurrection of the dead and the life of the age to come wherever it is happening.