I have a friend, a lovely woman who is a self-proclaimed atheist. She is caring, gentle and compassionate. Yet she and I see and experience the world in very different ways. I live in the continual presence of God, who works in my life and is shaping me into what I am (but not yet fully) — a son of God. My friend lives in a human-centric world where everything is determined by how men and women act and treat each other. In her world, you become a better person by striving to improve yourself. She makes a genuine effort to be the best person she can be.
The temptation is to think in “we” versus “they” terms about such people. This doesn’t make sense to me.
What does Easter mean?
If one thing is clear in the Bible, it’s that Christ the God-man died and rose again for all people. As the saying goes, “God didn’t make any second class people.” Every human being is lovingly created by God. So the first point is God loves my friend as much as me, regardless of her beliefs.
Secondly, Jesus went to great pains to associate with the non-religious people of his day: non-Jews, flagrant sinners, everyone. He did this so that all his brothers and sisters who followed him would see absolutely clearly that there is no “we” versus “they” in God’s kingdom. In fact he strongly criticised the strongly exclusive religious people of his day who held such a we/they view.
Lastly, like the two men walking on the road to Emmaus, many of us “religious” people haven’t yet met Jesus. We keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other, hoping to see him. Our faith tells us Jesus is risen! Jesus is Lord! But he remains largely hidden from us. Are we so very different from people like my friend who haven’t seen God ? (especially in religious people and their churches?)
Easter is the time when our joy in knowing the meaning of the profound truths of the Cross and the empty tomb should lead us to embrace all the people walking along with us. To see that every human being is doing the best they can right now, hoping (perhaps very incoherently) to encounter the living God. Our joy is what marks us as Easter people. One of my greatest joys is my confidence that Jesus is walking along side of people like my friend, even if she can’t yet recognise him.