Seeing Stars in the City

Seeing Stars in the City

There is little doubt that an ‘apocalyptic understanding of history’ was thoroughly Jewish in its origin (Sean Freyne, The Jesus Movement and Its Expansion: Meaning and Mission, 190).  It gave rise to the sincere expectation that the just would participate in resurrection and, thus, proffer flesh and blood to the metaphor of Daniel that the faithful would ‘shine…like the stars forever.’ (Dan 12:2-3).  Josephus, similarly, invokes this same expectation (Jewish Antiquities 13.172; 18.14).  As Daniel clarifies, it is a foreshadowing of an awakening that is the inception of everlasting life.  It is, however, hardly hidden, but rather starkly noticeable, at least to the curious and observant eye; like seeing stars on a dark, but cloudless night.

The gospel accounts certainly advance this same apocalyptic flow, purposefully retaining the prophetic stress on the symbolism of Temple and land in terms of Israel’s communal witness to the world.  The city of Jerusalem, however, is the apex for both of these concerns.  Luke, for example, certainly has more than time and geography in mind in his account of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus that deliberately climaxes with the participial phrase, ἀρξάμενοι ἀπὸ Ἰερουσαλήμ, ‘beginning from Jerusalem.’ (Luke 24:47) The root, αρχω, clearly suggests Jerusalem in the sense of exemplifier.  It cannot help but invoke a story of death (crucifixion) and failure (betrayal and abandonment on the part of the first Christ-followers), but also a movement toward hope.  It is, in fact, an urbanely situated hope in which the narrative of failure and death is honestly depicted in order to provide encouragement to future disciples in the midst of very hostile situations.

The gospels, however, take things further by grounding hope pragmatically (theologically, of course, as well) in the historical narrative of the resurrection of Jesus.  It is a corporeal movement, in other words, from stories born in the ethos of death to historical narratives that depict the culture of life, highlighted by the stress on the empty tomb and the somewhat mysterious post-resurrection appearances of Christ.  R. E. Brown (The Community of the Beloved Disciple, 110-23) reminds us that at least one of the functions of these stories is precisely to highlight a corporeal resurrection Christology.  Life replaces death as the overarching goal of a faithful, first-fruits agenda that carries forth the apocalyptic flow of history.

Practical demonstrations of what we might refer to as life-expressions, such that expose and make rid of various narratives of death, become incumbent, then, in communities of faith where the resurrected Lord is honoured and ardently followed.  It could, in fact, lend meaning to the curious and infuriating statement of Jesus, clothed in the context of demanding discipleship, that we ought to ‘Leave the dead to bury their dead.’ (Matt 8:21-22).  Jewish piety as concerns the familial responsibilities of proper sons and daughters would be horrified.  Followers of Jesus, however, are to aggressively provoke the inception of everlasting life in all its many contours[1]. In so doing, we are given the opportunity to be the flesh and blood of the prophetic dream that the people of God might shine like the stars forever.  In the cities of our world, this is only doubly so because the stars are notoriously so much more difficult to see.

Dr Wesley White
Lecturer

[1]   Joel Kotkin (The Human City: Urbanism For the Rest of Us [Evanston, IL: Agate Publishing, 2016]) notes recent urban advocates for dispersion, for example, out of high-density, inner-city development defined by crowded living conditions and limited privacy, which thus contributes to a degrading quality of life.  But Kotkin rightfully questions whether dispersion of this sort simply results in suburban elitism, which can at least appear to be banal, homogenous and equally lifeless.

URBAN THEOLOGY