Easter Sunday often feels like we have arrived. The sombre mood of the previous week including Good Friday, is replaced by an upbeat vibe. But the arrival of the Resurrection (the raising of the dead body of Jesus) on Easter Sunday is not a landing, but a call for action. To someone with no idea of God. Who only sees the world by what they can touch and see might ask the questions: How can Easter make a difference to anything? Has the resurrection of Jesus really changed the world for better? If so, where is the evidence?
For the people of Israel throughout their rich history with symbols and signs they identify the fig tree as an image of a good and settled life. We are currently living in a time where life is anything but good and settled. In Australia we are more fortunate than many. But despite stimulus packages, self-isolation, increased testing and modelling. Life is hard for many people. As you look around the world and see the mess we are in, you might question how Jesus' death has done anything to change the world.
Some have been recently hoarding toilet paper with apocalyptic over reactions. There is a need to be patient mindful of the words of Jesus amidst the unremitting conversation and concern about COVID-19, his promise is (John 14:27):
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid"
The call is to operate like him with trust in the Heavenly Father’s care. From this place the encouragement is to resist the temptation to anxious fretfulness, which itself is infectious, and instead practice humble love and be wise guides to others.
Every year with the next arrival of Easter there is a cry that rings out: 'there is a new beginning!' The church every Easter should be best placed to deal with any crisis by accepting the reality of a broken world while proclaiming that there is a new start of action that has been given in the Easter resurrection. This takes form not in idealistic words or even yearnings to leave this broken mess for a better world. But in the bodily presence of entering the reality of pain and suffering. In the words of the Missionary Theologian Leslie Newbiggin, ‘Resurrection is no longer a mere doctrine: it has a living face and a name’. After the resurrection Jesus comforts Mary who has come to treat the dead body and dries her tears (John 20). Jesus challenges Thomas and puts an end to his doubts (John 20), and Jesus confronts Simon Peter and gives him forgiveness and a fresh start (John 21). All those are part of what ‘resurrection’ means.
God’s name means ‘passionate love’. Jesus enacted a ‘passionate love’ for the honour of God’s name. For instance, when he drove greed and neglect out of the central place of worship for the Jews at the time, the temple. When he actively included the poor, the disabled, women, children, and bad people in the stimulus package of the day, the Kingdom of God. In Luke 4 we read Jesus announcing: 18 “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, 19 and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’”
If you read other parts of the Bible such as 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 you see that God’s kindness and goodness extends through his son Jesus and by the Holy Spirit to his people, the church. This passage is a picture of what it means to be God’s people, what our goal should be, and how generosity in giving plays a part. Acting out the goodness of God is a sign of the resurrected life Jesus gives to his people. This goodness is content not prompted by obligations but by love. In fact, that is the only obligation of the Christian life, to love.
Before Jesus goes to his death, he self-isolates with his disciples in a moment of privacy, intimacy and retreat. The occasion is a meal or a last supper before everything gets a little bit crazy. The meal hints at the coming sacrifice on the cross. Jesus however institutes a new tradition by saying that the bread they share is his body prepared in advance as a sign. That his life will be given instead of the disciples, the whole world, for their rebellion against God. Then he holds up some wine stating that this represents his blood that will be spilled as he is murdered on the cross. He is clear that no one else can drink from the cup he holds excepts himself. His sacrificial death is unique, a one-off event that will change the world forever. He then invites the disciples, us, to eat the bread as a sign that his death is our death. He also invites the disciples, us, to drink from the cup symbolising his blood as a transition to a new era or a new beginning, the giving of life. He then washes the disciples’ feet as a practical way of showing what love looks like (John 13:1-11). In the reality of impending desertion and betrayal Jesus reassures others.
At this moment, this is what it means to love our neighbours as ourselves. The new life and fresh start that Jesus gives enables us to be a generous, caring presence in our nations and the wider world, giving attention to people who are vulnerable, struggling or at risk of being forgotten.
This Easter we encourage you to draw near to God in faith and prayer to find peace and a fresh start.
Pastor Matt Hall