An Easter People: A Reflection for Easter Sunday 2023

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

These words of the Easter greeting identify us as those who believe in, and claim the power of, the resurrection of Jesus. In short, they make it clear that we as Christians identify as being, in the language I’ve used the past couple days, an Easter people. But what does this actually mean? These words are more than a slogan, more than a brand or a piece of apparel telling the world which team we’re on. These words, “Christ is risen!,” say something about what we believe about the world, about the person of Jesus, and about our role in the world ‘in him.’ And so today I’d like to reflect on this idea more. What did belief in the resurrection mean two thousand years ago? And how might we live that out today?

People who think of ‘religion’ as being all about ‘pie in the sky when you die’ are often surprised at how ‘this worldly’ the Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is. Aside from a general belief in Sheol, the place of the dead, and the odd reference to mediums, there isn’t much at all in the Old Testament about life after death. Belief in the resurrection of the dead within Judaism seems to have emerged during the Second Temple period, as a response to the age-old question of theodicy: How a just God can allow so much injustice in the world, why the wicked flourish and the good struggle. The answer they came up with was that God would act decisively in the world, rid it of evil, and then raise the righteous to new life in God’s restored world. With this in mind, the resurrection of Jesus takes on a different spin. Even if it was still shocking (because people just don’t rise from the dead) and confusing (since, as NT Wright put it, the sign of the end of time was happening in the middle of time), the resurrection of Jesus was still, for those who witnessed it, a powerful sign of God’s justice.

On Good Friday, the Son of God stood accused of being a revolutionary. Had he called for an armed insurrection? No. Had he called for sabotage or nonviolent resistance? No.  What Jesus did was to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, set people free from demons. He rejected the false righteousness of the overtly pious, and refused to hate those his community and religious leadership told him to hate. Jesus was a revolutionary to be sure. He was an extremist and a radical. But his was a revolution of morals, an extremism of love, a radicalism of God’s heart. That was what the powers that be found so threatening. It was in response to this that humanity looked at Jesus and declared him “Guilty” and sentenced him to torture and death. But, this was not the last word. By raising Jesus from the dead, God rejected humanity’s false verdict and vindicated him. God said, ’No no no no no. What you call justice is not justice at all. This is what justice looks like.’ This is what the resurrection meant two thousand years ago. We see this idea throughout the New Testament and particularly in the Acts of the Apostles, including in the reading assigned today. Here, Peter preaches:

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and … he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. (Acts 10.38-42)

Jesus did good, but humanity killed him for it. “But God raised him on the third day.” And moreover, he is now appointed as judge of everyone — his justice of mercy, love, and forgiveness defines what justice looks like.

So this is what the resurrection meant; but what does this mean? The short answer is that it means exactly the same thing. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s indictment of the world’s injustice and vindication of its victims. It is God’s yes to grace. It is God’s yes to freedom. It is God’s yes to feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. It is God’s yes in the face of every ‘no’ the world throws at us. It’s God’s yes to peace, to shalom. It is God’s yes to love. It is God’s yes to life. As Paul put it, “in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1.19-20).

And if we are indeed an Easter people, then it must also be our yes to all of this. We are not a ‘Palm Sunday people’, the crowds wanting a champion who would take down their political enemies. We are not a ‘Holy Wednesday people’, the reactionary schemers and conspirators who understood Jesus’ message of grace to be a threat to their power and privilege. We are a not a ‘Good Friday people’, weighed down and trampled under foot by the world’s violence. We are an Easter people. We are people of the resurrection, people of God’s yes.

So then, as we celebrate this most joyous of feasts today and throughout our lives, may we truly do so as an Easter people and choose the love, grace, compassion, and humility that God vindicated and declared to be just in the resurrection of Christ.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

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