By Will Vucurevich
I can still clearly remember my first Easter service. I was in eighth grade, and my family had recently started attending church. I was fascinated by this place that was so warm and welcoming. I loved how generous people were. I was intrigued by the genuine concern and compassion they showed me, an awkward and annoying 13-year-old.
In addition to all of the warm fuzzies my new church experience provided, I was also confused. I didn’t know their stories, had no idea what an Old Testament was, let alone a New one. I remember picking up the Bible and starting to read it like any other book. I made my way through Leviticus and gave up. This church thing was confusing, and I felt out of place, and yet so cared for.
Then came Easter. It seemed to be quite a big deal to those people. There were more people in the band, folks were more dressed up than normal, there were even flowers on the stage. I remember the pastor greeted the congregation, “He is risen!” to which everyone replied, “Risen indeed!” I had never heard any cheers at church before! I felt like the outsider who was not made aware of the inside joke.
But there was something about these people. Something that made me want to hang out and ask questions. Slowly, I learned the culture, the stories, the holidays. A few months later, I found myself praying for the first time and committing my life to following this Jesus that these people had told me about with their words and shown me with their love.
I am reminded of this experience as we head into Easter this year. Visitors will come, the band will play, Riccardo will preach. People will hear a strange and welcoming story of the God who put on flesh, loved generously, and gave himself for his creation. We will hear the story of the cross, the grave, and the Saturday spent in mourning and confusion. Then, the good news! We will hear of the great earthquake and the stone being rolled away, the magnificence of the angel’s white clothing and of his proclamation, the women’s amazement, and the transformation of the petrified disciples. The Spirit of this resurrected Jesus will be present and active as his people gather to remember, to celebrate, and to worship.
Easter Sunday is a great opportunity to remember who we are as his people, living into this resurrection life. People who have confessed that we have died to our old selves and have taken on a new identity in Christ. I like how N.T. Wright describes this, “Our task in the present…is to live as resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second.” Jesus was raised to inaugurate the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. As his people, we are to embody this coming kingdom in word and deed so that the watching world may more clearly understand not only what the kingdom is like, but who the King is.
Our lives are continually being transformed and refined by his Spirit so that we may dramatize the gospel to those God sends us as neighbors, co-workers, friends and family. We, as God’s people, join in with a long lineage of his witnesses in demonstrating what this resurrection life looks like. I love how Eugene Peterson describes it:
Church is an appointed gathering of named people in particular places who practice a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines… The practice of resurrection is an intentional, deliberate decision to believe and participate in resurrection life, life out of death, life that triumphs over death, life that is the last word, Jesus life. This practice is not a vague wish upwards, but comprises a number of discrete but interlocking acts that maintain a credible and faithful way of life, Real Life, in a world preoccupied with death and the devil. …The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death.
This is what God’s people are called to. This is the reality that we celebrate as we joyously declare that he is risen indeed! This is the message that revolutionizes our lives that we can’t help but share with others. This is the good news that fuels our prayers, our singing, and our services. This is the life transforming reality that compels us to love awkward teens and community members experiencing homelessness and newly-settled refugee families. This is the bedrock of our faith, the foundation of our hope. Knowing that he is faithful reassures our faith and urges us forward in love. As N.T. Wright says, “people who believe in the resurrection, in God making a whole new world in which everything will be set right at last, are unstoppably motivated to work for that new world in the present.”
N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2008), 30.
Eugene H. Peterson, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 12–3.