A.D. 2011. We’ve entered a new date on our calendar. A surprising number of people believe that “A.D.” refers to “After Death,” signifying the time after the crucifixion of Jesus in an analogous way that B.C.—“Before Christ”—refers to the time before Jesus’ birth. This belief is curious to me for two reasons. First, if A.D. refers to “After Death,” then how do we account for those thirty-three years of Jesus’ earthly life? What do we call the dates between B.C. and A.D.? Second, it would be odd indeed were we to signify the first year of the new dating system by extolling Jesus’ horrendous death. If anything, we’d call the new system “A.R.” for After Resurrection.
As it is, A.D. doesn’t mean “After Death” at all. A.D. is shorthand for Anno Domini, which means, “The Year of our Lord.” A.D. 2011 is The Year of our Lord, Two Thousand and Eleven. At least twice in the past two thousand years this system of dating has come under assault. The first time was during the French Revolution, when France’s secular regime attempted to supplant Anno Domini. We presently live in the midst of the more recent attempt. Today, scholars in virtually every field have agreed to refer to B.C as “B.C.E.” or “Before the Common Era” and A.D. as “C.E.” or “Common Era.” I was taught this system when I entered college in A.D. 1991—or, excuse me, C.E. 1991.
The rationale for the new designation makes sense: In a world in which scholars of various religions and cultures interact, a Christian dating designation can seem triumphalistic. Even so, the fact remains that Year 1 is still considered Year 1, whether the designation is Common Era or Anno Domini. The universally agreed-upon Year 1 is still the year of Jesus’ birth. Does this matter? For Christian people, it most certainly does.
We have entered into the season of Epiphany, which marks those moments at which God makes himself manifest in our lives in ways that change us, that alter our priorities, that shape our very identity. Think about the Scripture readings we study during Epiphany. We read about the Magi, whose entire lives are upended when God appears to them through the star. We read about Jesus’ own baptism, when the Holy Spirit reveals to him and those around him who Jesus is and where his destiny lies. In Epiphany, God claims people as his own. God makes Jesus the Lord of our lives.
Just as God does this in the space of our lives, so God does with time. Of the designation Anno Domini, Bishop N.T. Wright says, “Like a great church bell ringing out over a sleepy town, every time someone puts a date on something it speaks of the lordship of Jesus, whether people listen or not.”
Think about that the next time you write the date on a check or pull up your iPhone calendar. This Epiphany season, does God claim you? Will your time become God’s time, to mold and shape for his kingdom? In your life, does 2011 promise to be the Year of our Lord?