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After the pastel eggs have been found, the pancakes and Stripples devoured, and the yellow marshmallow Peeps thrown away, it’s back to work.
Is this what Easter is? Like the Super Bowl of religion, a day of celebration and then back to business as usual? Where is the change? Where is new life? Where is Resurrection?
This past September, I traveled to a retreat center outside New York City for the opening weekend of an interfaith Community Organizing Residency through “Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice.” Our cohort consisted of 25 new community organizers from across the U.S.: seven Jews, six Muslims, one Buddhist, and 11 Christians (one Adventist—me).
Entering my room where I would be sleeping for the next three nights, I met my roommate, Rabbi Adam Greenwald, a Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR, a Jewish community in Los Angeles. As we were both situating our suitcases and hanging up our shirts and jackets, Rabbi Adam turned and asked, "What's your faith tradition?"
"Seventh-day Adventist," I answered. The rabbi raised his eyebrows.
"Wow, I've never met an Adventist before," he told me. "Can I ask you a question?"
Oh, boy. What kind of crazy belief or lifestyle choice am I going to have to explain now?
"Sure, no problem," I said, keeping my (Rook) cards close to my chest.
The rabbi leaned forward. "Why aren't all Christians Adventists?"
I just stood there, contemplating his gracious question.
"I mean,” he continued, “how do people breathe without the Sabbath?" Rabbi Adam smiled and hung up his final shirt.
It was then that I knew I was in the right place.
Over the three days, Rabbi Adam and I enjoyed numerous conversations, sharing our faith traditions’ perspectives on life, death, and the call to work for justice in the world. These conversations flowed out of our room and into the dining hall and main sessions with other new organizers from various faith traditions. Through retreats, faith reflections, mentorship, and training, Bend the Arc’s six-month Community Organizing Residency proved to be a space of resurrection—a life-enriching site of change and liberation, a place of mutual respect and learning
In his book, The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales, Peter Rollins tells a modern-day parable titled “Being the Resurrection (i).”
Mere minutes after the Crucifixion, a group of Jesus-followers decided to travel as far away as possible because they couldn’t stand to be around such grave sadness and pain. The group traveled for many days until they found an isolated place where they set up a new community, one with fertile soil, clean water, and the necessary materials to build shelter. They promised one another to live there as Jesus had lived—in simplicity, love, and forgiveness. The community then lived in solitude for more than a hundred years. Then, one day a small band of nomads found them and told them the good news that Jesus had actually been resurrected just days after they had left. This, of course, was cause for great celebration!
While most of the community was singing and feasting and celebrating the good news, one of the elders in the community was found crouching, praying and weeping all alone in his room. One of the nomads asked him what was wrong. The elder responded:
Each day we have forsaken our very lives for him because we judged him wholly worthy of the sacrifice, wholly worthy of our being. But now, following your news, I am concerned that my children and my children’s children may follow him, not because of his radical life and supreme sacrifice, but selfishly, because his sacrifice will ensure their personal salvation and eternal life (ii).
The nomad stared at the elder, speechless.
Rollins comments that this story calls us not only to believe in the Resurrection but also to be the site where Resurrection takes place. The Resurrection should be more than an opportunity for intellectual assent, a type of “divine insurance policy (iii)." Instead, faith in the Resurrection should lead to spaces where Resurrection takes place—both personal and public spaces. Places where people join together to pour out their lives in solidarity with the poor and oppressed to bring about new justice, new peace, new breathing, new life.
For believers in the Resurrection, creating hopeful spaces of resurrection, especially public spaces, requires humility and the courage to join hands and work with people of other faith traditions.
May the joy of Easter extend far beyond crusty marshmallow Peeps. Let Resurrection come to our hearts, homes, and streets.
—Geoffrey Nelson-Blake, M.Div., lives in San Francisco with his wife Natalie, and works as a congregation-based community organizer with the San Francisco Organizing Project, a part of the PICO National Network.