Jordan Kelley is a junior at DePaul University. Jordan is an Interfaith Scholar and is a leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This is Jordan’s first year as an Interfaith Scholar.
Easter is the chief event that all of Christianity hinges on. It is the commemoration of the day that Jesus rose from the dead after being in the grave for three days. This holiday is one that is celebrated by all Christians even though the day that it is celebrated on by the Western and Eastern traditions is slightly different. As somebody who has grown up a Christian my whole life, Easter has continued to take on a deeper meaning.
I can recount many of the Easter sermons I have heard. It’s been drilled into my head since I was a kid that Easter is a pretty big deal, but I never really knew what it all meant. Who cares if this ancient story of a person rising from the dead two thousand years ago actually happened, and how does that even impact me now in the year 2012? Can’t we just move on as normal with ourselves and the world? One thing I have eventually learned is that the Easter story changes everything.
The crucifixion of Jesus took his disciples by complete surprise. Jesus claimed to be the messiah who was fulfilling the long narrative of the Hebrew Scriptures. How could the messiah, who was supposed to deliver his people from the Roman Empire and finish God’s story, be crucified to Rome’s very own torture device? Before and after the time of Jesus, there were many Jewish messianic movements, but they all were usually quenched by the military might of the Roman Empire. These movements usually shared a common belief in the reign of God, which challenged the Roman Empire (usually through violent rebellion) and with the hope of God’s established rule throughout the world. They all usually ended in the death of the messianic figure and his/her followers. The last thing that first-century Jews would have expected was a messiah that not only was beaten and abused, but one that was crucified. But the Gospels don’t shy away from this reality of Jesus.
In the Bible God has a way of shedding light in the darkest of moments. While the other disciples of Jesus are hiding way in fear of persecution, the faithful disciple Mary Magdalene is weeping at the tomb of Jesus. Suddenly a man appears behind her asking her why she is weeping. Mistaking him for the gardener, she asks where the body of Jesus is. She then realizes that it the the risen Christ. In the midst of this chaotic time, Jesus sends this woman disciple to spread the good news that he rose from the dead. And if in fact Jesus has been raised from the dead, new creation had begun.
Jesus came pronouncing a new way of life called “the Kingdom of God”, which was radically different from the promises of the other messianic figures that preceded Jesus. Perhaps the greatest of these differences was that the kingdom that Jesus and his followers pronounced and lived was nonviolent. Jesus even stated in his trial with Pilate that if his kingdom was of this world, his followers would have taken up arms and fought for his sake. Unlike other messianic movements, however, Jesus’ way of life “does not belong to this world”(John 18:36).
Jesus’ life was an example of the Kingdom of God. He healed the sick and marginalized, eat with those deemed unworthy to be part of God’s people such as the tax collectors and prostitutes, and pretty much pissed off all of the religious and political figures for challenging their unjust systems. This new way of life came into conflict with Rome’s way. In God’s Kingdom the last were first, but in Rome’s kingdom the first were those with power. In God’s Kingdom blessed are the peacemakers, but in Rome’s blessed are those who pick up the sword for Caesar. In Rome your power was based on your status given by the state, but Jesus didn’t look at ones given status, in fact he identified with those who had no status at all (one must wander what Jesus would have to say about the modern immigration situation in the United States). Jesus launched the Kingdom of God project through his life, death, and resurrection. This is the story that Christians inherit and continue to live. The Gospels end with Jesus breathing his Spirit onto his followers, telling them to continue the work that he started, and promising that he’ll be with them until the end of time. On Easter day new creation sprung forth from the grave. It is this divine new creation that I find myself invited by God to take part in.
Like I said above, the Easter story changes everything. If this story of God reconciling the world is really true, then being a Christian is going to change the way I live and breathe. Easter reminds me that I have a story to take part in. Like the early followers of Jesus, God breathes on me and enables me to carry on this restoration project knowing that my work is not in vain. As theologian N.T. Wright puts it, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom”.
For Christians, the Easter story should continue to foster our imaginations for what we are called to take part in here at DePaul and in the city of Chicago. The resurrection challenges many of the injustices that go on in the city, but more importantly it urges us to work for reconciliation in these areas because that’s our task as followers of Jesus. And it is in these areas that it seems impossible for any resurrection renewal to come about, but the promise of Easter tells us that there is always hope, always light even in the darkest of places because ultimately love has won. In my tradition, the Anglican Church, the Easter season lasts 50 days. It is my hope that during these days we will let the resurrection sink in and reflect on the grand narrative that we get to take part in.