Of all of the things that divide the three Abrahamic faiths, this is perhaps the biggest. You might think that Good Friday would be the biggest divider, however Jews believe that Jesus died too. Just like every other wannabe Messiah of the earliest century of our current era, Jesus died. It’s true that many if not most Muslims also believe that Jesus didn’t die – though the Qur’an hardly corroborates that belief.
No, the biggest divider between us is what Christians say happened on Easter. Resurrection, or more specifically, the belief that the same Jesus who died on Friday was alive three Jewish days later. This was even a radically unique, unheard of belief at the time of Jesus. Because, it wasn’t beat up, battered, zombie Jesus who became THE walking dead. Instead, the Jesus who came out of the tomb wasn’t the same as the one who went in. He was new, or even better, re-newed.
We know this because of the many accounts we have in the Gospels of his own followers confessing that they didn’t recognize him. He was physical, yet he could appear and disappear (like a ghost). He could walk through walls, or so it seems. We all have to be honest with ourselves at this point and admit that this is not the most believable story. Any person who tells a story like this knows that the story sounds ridiculous. But, the story lives on because the very people who told it believed that they actually saw what they saw – Jesus, alive and renewed. This may be why the Jews deny the resurrection. Honestly, it is a crazy story.
Rather than try to convince anyone that the resurrection of Jesus happened a couple of centuries ago, I’d rather spend some time here fleshing out why this day, Easter, doesn’t have to be a point of contention between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. It’s not the story itself, but what the story signals about our reality now that can unite us under one great hope rather than divide us.
We all hope for a day in which our world is no longer full of darkness, destruction, pain, and evil. All of us – Muslim, Jew, and Christian alike (and I would add (almost) everyone). We long for justice. We long for peace. We long for hope. We long for everything to be set back to right, the way that it was in the beginning. We want God’s way to be the way things are here on earth. If the resurrection happened, it is a sign that this longing isn’t hopeless. If Jesus was who Christians believe him to be – Israel’s Messiah, the embodied Kingdom of God – and he died, there is no hope. But resurrection shows us that death will not and is no longer the final word for us. Death has no power. If resurrection happened, there is hope for us.
“If it is the case that Israel’s vocation was to be the people through whom the one God would rescue his beloved creation; if it is the case that Jesus believed himself, as God’s Messiah, to be bearing Israel’s vocation in himself; and if it really is true that in going to his death he took upon himself…the full weight of the world’s evil – then clearly there is a task waiting to be done….When Jesus emerged from the tomb, justice, spirituality, relationship, and beauty arose with him. Something has happened in and through Jesus as a result of which the world is a different place, a place where heaven and earth have been joined forever. God’s future has arrived in the present. Instead of mere echoes, we hear the voice itself: a voice which speaks of rescue from evil and death, and hence of new creation” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, 116).
Admittedly, that’s a lot of ‘if’s’. Suppose it’s true, though. How great of a miracle is it that through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, new creation began? It seems the whole story itself, if there is to be any real hope for any of us, hinges on this being the case.
Later in his book (cited above), Wright talks about all of human history happening between three trees. The first tree is familiar to all of us: it’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When first humans chose to eat fruit from that tree, all of history was doomed to follow cycles of violence, evil, darkness, and pain. The second tree is the cross, where Jesus (according to Christians) ended that cycle once and for all. His resurrection signals that it is indeed finished. The third tree is found in the end of the story (as it was in the beginning): the tree of life. The story goes that this tree’s leaves are for the healing of all of the nations.
The tree of knowledge led all to death.
The tree of death leads all to life.
The tree of life will heal the world, and set this world to right.
What if? That’s something that we can unite around, as is the purpose of the whole story. That all of us, Muslim, Jew, and Christian, will be set to right relationship with each other, and with God. May we all strive to that end.