Easter is the story of Death working backwards. With the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God began to undo the comprehensive damages of sin, restoring his Creation to its original design.
That includes us.
Much has been made of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene in the garden (see John 20.11-18). Most notably it confers upon Christ the status of “Second Adam” (see 1 Corinthians 15.45-49). What the First Adam lost us, the Second Adam restored to us: our divine DNA as kings and priests over God’s Creation.
Scholars tell us that the language of Genesis 1, the Creation Poem, is architectural language, designed to show us that God is building the world as his Temple. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24.1). Placed within Eden, Adam and Eve were meant to serve as priests of that Temple. Likewise, the first couple were meant to conserve and conceive God’s creativity in the garden, cultivating what was there and slowly expanding the borders until their dominion had stretched over the earth (Genesis 1.28). God designed his people to be both guardians and gardeners—people tasked with protection and beautification, consecrated for his purpose.
Temples needed guardians. That may seem strange, but since they were often repositories of great wealth, the guardians had to keep out thieves and soldiers. But the guardians weren’t just bodyguards—think of them as something akin to Shaolin Monks, where theology and martial arts were embedded—for their other responsibility was to guard the teachings of the Temple against blasphemy and heresy. They protected everything that belonged to God, both physically and ideologically, to ensure the Temple was GOOD.
And most Temples had gardens set aside for reflection, so God’s appointment of Adam and Eve as guardian-gardeners wasn’t entirely abstract. Those gardens needed to be cared for, set in order, and beautified. They would have included small buildings—trellises, gazebos, arbors, follies—and many kinds of animals—birds, pets, nests, families—and many kinds of trees—some simply because they were beautiful, and some to produce fruit (see Genesis 2.9). Of particular significance was the almond tree, which became quickly incorporated into Jewish and Christian art of all kinds. Almonds adorned the golden lampstand in the temple (see Exodus 37; later placed in the Ark of the Covenant). In fact, mandorlas—almond-shapes—were seen to be vertical halos that highlighted holy figures in sacred painting. But the purpose, always, was beautification.
Beauty, in the biblical sense, is always about well-ordered wholeness. Something is beautiful when there is an unbroken unity between what it looks like and what it is—when it feels truthful and authentic, when it has integrity. So the real worth and meaning of beautification wasn’t prettiness but wholeness. We make things WHOLE.
Why does God care about protecting his Temple and making it beautiful? Because it’s HIS. That’s what it means to be consecrated, to be set apart, to be holy. God loves HIS Creation, HIS Creatures, and HIS people.
Which is why he was willing to die for us. God gave up his own life to rescue and redeem us, conquering death and offering us new life through his resurrection.
In Christ Jesus, our old lives have been put to death. We aren’t slaves to our whims and desires. We aren’t held captive by our past. We are free. We are new.
Because we are HIS.
And our identity as his people is both royal and priestly. That’s what we’re told in 1 Peter 2.9: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation … called out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
When priests were ordained, the first thing they received was an anointing with oil. Shepherds anointed their flocks with oil as protection against disease. Kings were anointed at their coronations (1 Samuel 16; 2 Kings 9.6), and the psalmist praises God for being anointed with the oil of gladness—both a figurative and a literal anointing (Psalm 45.7). Priests were anointed with oil (Exodus 29.7), as were the temple and all its furnishings (Exodus 40.9).
You and I are priests. This is how we’ve been set apart. Through the resurrection of Jesus, our original design as God’s priestly people has been restored. The old has gone, the new has come. Today, we walk in newness of life. We are born again. We have been called to protect and to beautify all that belongs to God. We are called to be GOOD. Be WHOLE. Be HIS.
On Easter at Westwinds, we passed around anointing oil in four glass bowls. These bowls were designed by an artisan in North Carolina especially for us, in honor of Holy Week at Westwinds. Such craftsmanship is priestly work—evidence that men and women honor God with their gifts. All work is a gift, when done well. We worship God when we steward our abilities and our resources. That’s GOOD. We worship God when we bring together our vocation and our creativity. That’s what it means to be WHOLE. We worship God with all that we are, because we are HIS.
The oil placed within these bowls had special significance, also. It was almond oil. “Almond” is the Hebrew noun shaqad, which means “keep watch, be vigilant.” When God tasked Jeremiah to be his spokesperson to Israel, he showed him an almond tree and reminded him of his requirement for his people to be GOOD. When God selected Aaron to be his chosen spokesperson, and his family to be a line of priests, he made Aaron hold out a stick. God caused that stick to flower, and then to bud with almonds. When God chooses us, he also chooses to make us beautiful—so that the outside reflects the inside, because we are WHOLE. Likewise, the almond tree became associated early on with Christians for its significance as the first fruits. Since Christ was the first fruit of the resurrection—a foreshadowing of all that is to come with the general resurrection at the end of time—almonds are like him, early but anticipated. We gave out almond oil to remind us all, we are HIS.
Jesus is our high priest; the priest on his own altar. A priest in the order of Melchizadek—the first priest mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 14), appearing to Abraham and leading him to bless the Lord Most High. Melchizadek’s name means “King of Righteousness,” and many people wonder—coming as he did from the Valley of Peace, a location found on no ancient maps—if Melchizadek wasn’t a manifestation of God. In being a priest in the Order of Melchizadek, Christ assumes the highest office available to any human being.
Christ is a new kind of priest for a new kind of priesthood—one in which you and I have been ordained to protect and beautify all that belongs to God.
His is risen Indeed. And now, so are we.