For many of us, Easter has strong associations with studying. The Easter holiday is the one you won’t really get if you’re coming up to big exams, because Easter term is exam term. Easter also comes when preparations for end-of-year performances and summer sporting events step up a gear. In some of the most intense years of our lives, Easter can seem to be brushed aside by ambition.
Meanwhile, in the traditional church calendar, Easter brings an end to the self-examination of Lent as Christians celebrate Jesus’ victory over death. At Easter we declare God’s victory over the evil that has infested the whole creation, including each of us, because the Jewish Messiah wonderfully took that evil upon himself. We rejoice in God’s grace that brings what was dead in sin to life. No dead creature can work towards its own redemption or resurrection; God does all the work!
Is there any connection between these two sides of Easter? Can there be good news for our studies, revision and research? Are we ever tempted to stop working for success and just trust God to give us results? But the followers of Jesus know that faith and good works belong together, both granted by God in God’s mercy and grace.
So what about studying in the light of Easter? The grace of God brings us to new life, but it certainly doesn’t lift us out of the creation, nor ever will. On the contrary, we are God’s creatures, dependent on His provision in the rest of creation, and God has revealed that there will be a created order for ever (Isa 66:22, Rev 22:5), where Jesus will live with his redeemed people. Now scholarship may be one of the deepest ways we can engage with this created order, both moulding our minds to understand its structure better, and using our skills to develop it. In both regards, a lot of changes may lie ahead, as Christ’s victory overcomes the world as we know it. But just as it was worth learning many things at school that we may now have forgotten, so it’s surely worth excelling in that exam, honing that PhD thesis or making that article really crisp even if we can’t see how these things might fit into God’s eternal redemptive purposes.
Easter shows that death is not the end of life; what we do now may have consequences for ever. That excites me as I follow Jesus: the journey will never end, every day counts, and my reward depends on how I build (1 Cor 3:12-15). Perhaps the really Christian scholar is the one who has faith in the eternal significance of his or her work, even without knowing what its value will be. There’s a thought to ponder as I crunch my data and tweak my text!
See how Paul finishes his longest discourse on the resurrection: “But thank God! He gives us the victory, through our Lord Jesus the Messiah. So, my dear family, be firmly fixed, unshakeable, always full to overflowing with the Lord’s work. In the Lord, as you know, the work you’re doing will not be worthless.” (1 Cor 15:57-58, The New Testament for Everyone)