To a group of Cornell students:
“What is the one issue that students most need to consider?” – well, that is a difficult question, and all I can do really is tell you about an issue that has encouraged and galvanized me as I have considered it. I am not so foolish as to think that what I have to say in answer will be true at all times and places or will even necessarily speak to you here. But I would commend to you students the resurrection of Jesus Christ as an issue worth considering in greater depth.
Because we are students: we are people caught up in exploring the world. I don’t want to import too much of a liberal-arts mindset to Cornell, but I think that if we take our calling as students seriously, we are discovering: we are encountering ideas for the thrilling first time; we are engaging in research that is exciting and new, finding solutions to old problems; we feel the pain of our broken world with all the sharpness of first exposure; we are impassioned for social justice; we are developing the interests and commitments that will shape our professional endeavors for the rest of our lives; we are negotiating important relationships as we have not before now. We are full of hope. We are exploring the world.
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the most explosive sign of God’s faithfulness to the world that God has made. The resurrection changes everything. It is a supernova in our midst. I don't know how we ever get beyond shock and incomprehension towards it. In the death of Jesus we see the murderous heart of our world, of ourselves: we and all the systems and the powers of our world together have conspired to kill God when he appeared in our midst. But in the resurrection we see that God does not turn away from us – God does not pull himself permanently away into some far-off place. By resurrecting Jesus from the dead, God has begun the healing: the renovation of the world he will complete at the end. Jesus is the firstfruits from the dead, the first bushel brought back early, before the harvest. This gives us an unfathomable hope for our world. The resurrection doesn’t give us some spiritual preoccupation; it sends us back into our real world with deepened interest, with more fascination in our studies, with renewed commitment to justice, with careful and radical politics – the resurrection of Jesus authorizes and directs our exploration of the world, because we know that this is the world to which God is faithful.
We as students are also fearful people, I think. We have a lot to be afraid of. For my own part, I fear failure – as an academic and as a person. I fear making huge missteps in my life. I am afraid that I will unwittingly contribute to injustice, because our world is sick and I am so much a part of it. I fear messing up relationships – or of being lonely. I fear never finding out the answers to questions and doubts that dog me. You can fill in – we are often fearful people, particularly as students.
The resurrection of Jesus isn’t some magic bullet for all these and other fears. But it does address them: and empty their power. Why? Because in the resurrection of Jesus, we have seen God’s merciful triumph over chaos and betrayal and death. If we have seen in Jesus’ suffering all the forces that we fear at full play, now in the resurrection we look at God’s victory over them. The Jesus who went among the people, who healed the widow’s son and who touched the lepers and forgave the sinners and went to death for his enemies – this one is now the Lord of all. The resurrection thus frees us – we can look our fears full in the face and say to them, “Jesus is risen: I have already seen the dawning of the day, and I know that your time is coming to an end.” This frees us to be people of boundless joy and gratitude. In fact, I have come to think this summer that our joy as Christians – and as students – is one of the more subversive and radical things we can have or do in the world.
So I commend to you students the resurrection as an especially relevant consideration.