Auckland Church Leaders’ Easter Message
Easter, celebrating the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, is Christianity’s oldest and most important feast.
Easter is the great event that lies at the very heart of and gives meaning to our Christian faith, and if there is one word that encompasses this meaning and significance, that word is “hope”.
Hope has been hard-wired into the human psyche in all of human history. It is what has made it possible to overcome the tragedy of loss and death, to struggle on against the odds, to overcome adversity, to achieve heroic deeds.
An unknown author once wrote, Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible, and as Alexander Pope put it, Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
Hope is the opposite of despair and cynicism. It is an instinctive knowing that good can overcome evil and that what seems unattainable can be a possibility. It gives unexpected strength in those bleak and seemingly hopeless times when we experience loss and the letting go of security and health, and ultimately of our own lives.
Here in Aotearoa NewZealandwe have seen for ourselves in recent months how hope rebuilds broken lives and broken cities. We think of the amazing and heart-warming accounts of the hope that brought people inChristchurchthrough those terrible times in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes; the hope that supported the victims who were trapped, and hope on the part of the rescue teams as they fought on in desperate situations to rescue them.
From time immemorial hope has been understood and expressed in many forms. Long before the advent of Christianity, many civilisations had stories or images to express the concept of hope. Back as far as the fifth century BC, that mythical bird thePhoenixwas presented as a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and renewal. It is found in many cultures – a bird that perished in a fire and burned it to ashes, from which a new, youngPhoenixarose reborn, to live again. This story is found in ancient Greek, Persian and Egyptian cultures and there are variations of it in Chinese, Japanese Korean and Russian history as well.
For two thousand years the world’s Christians have opened their hearts to a different kind of hope built, not on a legend or fable, but on the real and tangible life and death and resurrection of the person of Jesus Christ.
It is an assured hope that addresses the longings of the human heart for meaning and purpose and answers the seemingly insuperable questions about who we are, why we exist and what are our origins and destiny.
Today’s world, more than at any other time, is overwhelmed by anxiety. We fear nuclear destruction, we experience wars, diseases and famines as well as the reality of economic insecurity and the breakdown of long-held values. Here inAucklandwe are just as exposed to this anxiety. It confronts us every time we go online, tune into radio or television or open our newspapers. It is not surprising that a sense of hopelessness is pervasive, especially among young people.
The secularised world does not offer answers. Neither does science. With all the growing understandings that science gives us about the origins and development of life in its many forms, it does not and cannot answer our deep, personal search for meaning, or meet the yearning to love and be loved that is at the very essence of our humanity.
That great 4th century bishop, St Augustine of Hippo put it like this. “Our hearts were made for Thee O Lord, and are ever restless until they rest in Thee.” There seems to be this deep chasm within every human heart.
Jesus Christ, God’s Son, in becoming human, revealed to us the generosity and altruism of God his Father, and by the example of his own life and teaching he taught us how we, too, can follow in his footsteps. The loving God revealed to us by Jesus, is not a God who determines our value or destiny simply by tallying up our good deeds as the measure of a reward in eternal life. Instead, he loves us unconditionally and invites us to love him in return. The cross upon which Jesus gave his life speaks more eloquently than any words of this unconditional love.
Here inAuckland, as in churches around the world, Easter celebrations recall Jesus’ resurrection from death to life. In conquering death, Jesus shows us that extinction is not our evolutionary fate, because death is not the end of the road. It is another step on the journey to perfection which is humanity’s ultimate goal, that is, to eternal life in the love and presence of God.
Through his empty tomb and physical resurrection, Jesus continues to show us that love is stronger than death. We need no longer be held prisoners in our own private darknesses of illness, futility, addiction and the many other forces that crush our spirits. Jesus has opened the doors in these dark places to the gentle healing and peace of our loving God.
A contemporary Christian writer, Rev Ronald Rolheiser, puts it like this.
God never overpowers, never twists arms, never pushes your face into something so as to take away your freedom. God respects our freedom and is never a coercive force. Christ is risen, though we might not see him! We don’t always notice spring. The miraculous doesn’t force itself on us. It’s there, there to be seen, but whether we see or not, and what precisely we do see, depends mainly upon what’s going on inside our own hearts.