Long after the chocolates are gone and the baskets have been put away for another year, Christians continue to celebrate Easter. For fifty days, Christians meditate on the Easter story. We describe ourselves as an Easter people; "alleluia," sometimes translated as "hooray," is our song.
What does it mean to be an Easter people? And, why do we persist in calling ourselves an Easter people in the midst of today's troubled world?
When we look around, we see challenges everywhere. To our eyes, this world does not appear to be redeemed. Images of hunger, injustice, poverty, war, crime and the consequences of natural disasters are constantly before us. We know the pain of disease and death in our bodies. We experience loss in our relationships. Funding shortfalls in education and health care threaten our communities. Creation groans under the strain of environmental degradation. An alleluia song seems strangely out of place in the midst of our realities. How is it that Christians can shout "hooray"?
An answer is found in the resurrection appearances.
The Gospels relate various appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples following his resurrection. Jesus appears to Mary of Magdala as she weeps beside his empty tomb. Jesus walks with Cleopas and another disciple in their confusion as they journey towards home. Jesus appears to a group of fearful disciples when they have locked themselves in a room. Jesus waits on the beach for Peter and others to return from a fruitless night of fishing.
Although these events occurred over two millennia ago, aspects of them can still speak to us today. Jesus meets his disciples where they are, in circumstances that are familiar to human experience. Jesus is present when we are overcome with sorrow, when the journey makes us weary, when our insecurities box us in and when our efforts seem futile.
The disciples experienced a personal renewal from their encounter with the risen Jesus. But Jesus makes clear to them that personal renewal must be lived in community and in the world. Jesus commands, "Go and tell my brothers and sisters." "Proclaim to all the nations."
Jesus sends his friends into the troubled milieu of first century Palestine. This was a world where the Roman occupiers met Jewish uprisings with swift and brutal retaliation, where heavy taxation improvished the people and where purity codes excluded many from participating in society. It was a world of hunger, poverty, oppression and injustice. The disciples have the courage to go into this world of struggle because Jesus empowers them with the gift of his Spirit.
The resurrection is the promise of new life, not the promise of a personal or global utopia. The resurrection is an invitation to transformation, beginning with the individual and radiating outward to creation. With hearts and minds enlivened by the Spirit, ordinary people become messengers of hope and catalysts for change.
"Alleluia!" is our song because the promise, invitation and gift are for all people, here, now and for generations to come.