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  • Writer's picturePaul Cho

Resurrected Work: How the Resurrection Gives Meaning to Our Labour

When J.R.R. Tolkien was struggling to complete his masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, he came to a standstill. He was attempting to write a grand story unlike anything the world had ever seen. The problem was that Tolkien was a perfectionist. He painstakingly crafted every major and minor plot point, struggling over every detail. However, at this time, he was over fifty years old and didn't have much time left. To complicate matters, World War II had just begun. With Britain facing an imminent threat of invasion, there was no guarantee that Tolkien would survive the war. During these uncertain times, Tolkien was tormented by the idea of not being able to finish his story. He was haunted by the fear that his work would have no value if left incomplete.



In the midst of such fear, Tolkien wrote a short story called "Leaf by Niggle." In this story, Tolkien introduces a character named Niggle, a perfectionist painter much like himself. One day, Niggle conceives a dream to paint a grand picture that exists in his mind. He envisions a large, beautiful tree with stunning mountains and villages in the background. After being distracted by the busyness of life, Niggle does not make much progress. At this point in the story, the time for Niggle's departure arrives. Sadly, Niggle has to leave his incomplete painting behind to embark on his journey.


Do you ever wonder if our ordinary work has any value or significance in the eternity to come? Do you ever ponder how our mundane and routine tasks can matter in the kingdom to come? As we celebrate Easter, the day of our Lord's resurrection that guarantees our future resurrection, what does the hope of resurrection remind us of about all the work we do here on earth?


In John 21, we see Peter and the disciples fishing. Despite toiling all night, they catch no fish. The next day, a man instructs them to cast the net on the other side. Peter and his friends, being fishing experts, may have questioned who this man was to give such advice. However, they obeyed and cast the net to the other side of the boat. Immediately, they caught a large number of fish. Right away, they realized the man who told them to cast the net on the other side was none other than the Resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ.


This is where things become very interesting. Jesus invites them to bring some of the fish to him and tells them to come and have breakfast. Our resurrected Lord Jesus could have offered them something better. He could have said, “Guys, let me bring down the heavenly buffet for you, so that we may eat together.” Instead, Jesus said, "Bring the fish to me," the toilsome work of earthly hands.


In the book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, Steven Garber writes about this scene:


What he chose to do was honor their work and then eat with them. 'Bring your fish, too!' It is obvious that as the Lord of heaven and earth, he could have insisted that they eat the fish he provided—and that would not have been a bad thing. But what he did instead was acknowledge that they had been working through the night, and in truth, had been working their whole lives. Bring yourselves, the work of your hands, into this resurrection breakfast, and add your fish to mine—because we are in this together (129).

By taking the fish into His own body, our resurrected Lord was affirming that our earthly work deeply matters in His presence and that it will be an integral part of the new heaven and new earth to come.


Returning to the story of Niggle, the scene shifts to where Niggle hears two voices. One voice suggests that Niggle wasted his time, which is why he couldn't complete the painting. However, another voice acknowledges that while this may be true, he chose to live his life sacrificing for others. As a reward, when Niggle steps into heaven, he sees the Tree, the Tree he envisioned completing while living on earth but couldn't due to life's distractions. But in heaven, there was the tree, not just a drawing, but the real tree, infinitely more beautiful than he ever imagined drawing in his mind. Tolkien had a profound understanding of our work in heaven. Even if our work on earth seems insignificant and of no value, somehow it will endure and will be part of building True Reality in the new heaven and new earth to come.


In 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul dedicates the entire chapter to writing about the hope of resurrection, he concludes the chapter by saying, "Brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."


In light of Christ's resurrection, which affirms the goodness of God's creation, our Lord is renewing all things in heaven and on earth and has invited us to participate in this work of renewal. We participate in this work through our ordinary lives and ordinary work, the vocations of our lives. So, Paul says it will not be in vain, as he sees, in light of the resurrection, somehow God using our works to bring forth the garden-city, the kingdom, into our world.


As we celebrate Easter, let this thought sink in deeply. Our Resurrected Lord delights in our work, even if we struggle with it and even if we may not be able to complete it. He sees and understands our struggles. Yet, the Resurrected Lord receives the works of our hands with delight, and even uses them to build and bring the True Reality of all things, the eternal kingdom, where heaven and earth will unite and come together. I invite you to listen to and meditate on the song, "Your Labor is Not in Vain," by The Porter's Gate, as we celebrate the Easter season.



Reference

Garber, Steven. Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good. IVP Books, an Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2014.




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