Most of us have met one or two remarkable people. Sometimes those remarkable people will be counted among what the modern world calls ‘celebrity culture’. More often the people who are remarkable are self-effacing, ordinary folk who have found themselves caught up in extraordinary situations. They have not sought out celebrity, but have become high profile because of their insight or talent or courage.
One does not need to be a Christian to recognize that Jesus was remarkable. I’ve met many atheists, agnostics and adherents of non-Christian faith traditions who consider Jesus great, as a wise and original thinker and a singular holy person. Before I came to faith I very much believed that Jesus was an amazing figure who challenged many of the orthodoxies of his day and remained a critical ethical voice in ours.
The Easter story invites us to consider Jesus as something more than a wise person or great ethical teacher. As I’ve said before, there is something offensive about the ‘Easter Event’ – the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. For, on the one hand, if we suppose that Jesus is God the idea that he might die is offensive. How could God die and die a criminal’s death at that? Jesus is honoured as a prophet in Islam and – in virtue of his status as a prophet – they insist that he could not die on a cross. Given that we say he is the Son of God, how much more offensive is it to say he died on a cross? Yet, at the same time, if we believe, as Christians, that Jesus actually dies on the cross, the notion of his resurrection is an offense to reason. Don’t we all know that no one dies and lives again?
Yet, the Jesus we are invited to meet and be loved by is no mere teacher or prophet. He is the Christ, the Son of God, as St Peter has it. And I think the significance of Easter lies not simply in some act of redemption undertaken two thousand years ago, but in our ongoing participation in redemption now. Easter symbolizes an invitation to each of us to meet Christ afresh as if for the first time.
What do I mean? Well, while I return again and again to the powerful image of the Cross, for me the most powerful moment in the Gospels is found in the Garden on that first Easter. It is when the risen Christ meets Mary Magdalene. This is the Christ who comes with love, reconciliation and hope to the ones who betrayed him and failed to stand by him in his hour of need. It is the Christ who stuns his witnesses into awe.
Perhaps it’s just me, but I constantly want to meet again the Christ who reconciles and invites us into a way of peace, generosity and new beginnings. I suspect that this is because I’m conscious of the inadequacy of my faith and my need for forgiveness. But it’s also predicated on my desire to participate in God’s good news here and now. As we celebrate Easter, let’s not just see it as an historical event, as something from long ago, but as part of God’s living creation now. Let’s seek to live on the promises of God and be people of grace and peace today.