“Vapor of vapors!” Solomon once said. “All is vapor.” On a day as festive as Easter, we aren’t usually quite up to taking this to heart. Solomon tells us that life is short, fleeting, enigmatic, impossible to grasp, eluding our control. We find this frightening, so instead we like to focus on the brilliant, the fun, the happy, and the festive. Why would we give any though to death and the curse on the day we celebrate our freedom from both?
Yet this can only be an excuse. We don’t usually give much thought to life as vapor even on other days. We don’t like it, and most of the time we prefer to deny it. distract ourselves from it, or bargain with it. This is unhealthy, though, and as perhaps the worst possible tragedy, it actually saps Easter of its power. Easter is only as brilliant as it is because life is as weary as it is.
Easter, see, follows from Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The death and burial of Christ are the context for His resurrection. And this context is not just a perfect illustration, but the very climax, of life’s vaporous nature. When Jesus headed into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, His vaporous life was beginning to thin. Like the fog under the rising sun, everything was beginning to evaporate. Jesus had lived for thirty years, spent the last three of them prophesying to Israel, creating a counter-Israel around Himself with a core of twelve apostles, challenging leaders, transforming Law-keeping, and preparing a revolution in humanity’s relationship to God. He did the work the Father gave for Him to do. The destiny of Israel, and indeed the destiny of whole world, hinged on these final hours, the finish line of the Messiah’s race.
But Jesus, having a full human nature, has a fully human mind. And this fully human mind was quite finite, limited in all the normal ways, on that dark night. All He had to cling to was faith: trust in His Father by the Spirit. He could not, from within His humanity, bring anything to completion. His flesh being as much vapor as yours or mine, He could not see straight through the mist of life to the glorious ending of God’s plan. He had a promise to which He could only cling by faith: the promise that He was the beloved Son, who the Father would justify and deliver even after death, whose movement the Spirit would carry on through the Apostles even once He left the world. But unless He shook off the limits of His humanity and executed a divine cheat, He could not make any of this happen. If He had gotten anything wrong, if He had in any way failed, if His disciples were too weak or God’s sovereign will different than He expected, His life’s work would dissolve into nothing. He could only pray, wait for the guards to take Him, speak the final words given to Him, and commit His spirit into His Father’s hands. Once He made this last pledge of faith, He had nothing left within His own human power. The vapor of His life passed away into the wind, and He had nothing left but promise and faith.
But of course, the promise held true. Christ’s faithful faith bore fruit. The Father was pleased with the Son and was willing to publicly justify Him by resurrection. The Spirit did come on the wind and take the Son’s fire to the ends of the earth. Easter happened, and everything Jesus had ever done somehow survived the dissipation of death itself and condensed into an everlasting kingdom. For the first time, life under the sun found itself brightened by the Light from beyond the sun, the light which turns vapor to rain which brings forth an eternal crop and a tree of indissoluble life.
This, then, is our own hope. Indeed, it is our only hope. As Solomon said, our life still is vapor. We can’t control it, can’t see through it, and can’t make it last. As we walk under the sun, Tolkien’s haunting tune is right: “Mist and shadow / Cloud and shade / All shall fade / All shall fade.” Mere optimism can’t fix this. Nor can hard work. Everything we do is vapor, just like our lives. Our best efforts can fall apart. Wise or foolish, good or evil, successful or failure: we have no ability whatsoever to reach into the future and make it work for us, or even to gain true profit and control from the present. All of our plans are beyond our reach to complete. We cannot fulfill our own hopes and dreams, especially those for the longest term. The world, the future, is a fog which eludes our grasp and understanding.
But there is a light which pierces through the vapor. Even in the midst of the mist, we can make out a single golden ray from beyond, a ray which carries a promise. “Die with me,” the voice says, “evaporate into the wind of my Spirit, and I will condense you into living water.” Today may be the Friday of impending dissolution, or it may be the Saturday when everything has already dissipated, but the Father has appointed a Sunday. If we are willing to trust in Jesus, giving up all of our claims to power, ability, and control in this life, yielding our pretensions and our work into His hands, He holds the one way out of the fog. His broken body and shed blood is the ark which carries us through the last vapor, and on the other side, if we believe, the resurrection of the dead dispels the mist.