It’s time for me to take a break for a couple of weeks to recharge my batteries and spend time with my family. I’ll still be keeping busy as Archbishop Cranmer has told me I need to broaden my knowledge of church history, so I’m stuck into my reading list right now. To finish things off before the break though, I’d like to share some thoughts on the wonderful blessing of Easter:
A few years ago when I was a youth worker, I was asked to teach a GCSE RE class of year 10s about Easter during the week leading up to it. I asked them what they knew already, and getting a very limited response, I thought the best thing to do would be to sit and tell them the story through from Maundy Thursday up to Easter. For once it was one of those great teaching moments where the class just sat listening as they took in the story. At the end we discussed it and some of them were genuinely shocked at what they had heard. They were amazed at what Jesus had gone through and I remember one girl being angry with the way Jesus’ friends had deserted him. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection still has power to shock.
When you think about it, the superficiality of fluffy bunnies and chocolate are almost offensive when compared to the intensity of love and hate tied up in the Easter story. The gospels are gruesome in places, demonstrating the depths that humanity can reach. Infant massacres, the beheading of John the Baptist purely because of lust, the authorities rigging a trial resulting in an innocent man being condemned to death and then tortured brutally before being executed on a cross. The early church faced stonings and imprisonment for the sake of their faith.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Suffering is an ongoing theme in the Bible for when sin comes into conflict with God’s holiness and love, so often suffering is the result for those who choose to live by God’s laws and not the world’s. Many who criticise Christians as feeble-minded or relying on their faith as a crutch wouldn’t have the guts to follow Jesus if they saw the persecution that Christians face in some parts of the world. When Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) he wasn’t joking.
Why then do Christians choose to accept this? Why do those who risk alienation, torture or worse where they live still choose their faith above everything else? What is it about following Jesus that is worth such great cost? Paul sums it in the book of Phillipians:
‘But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Phillipians 3:7-11)
If Jesus died but there was no resurrection then suffering in his name would be meaningless; there would be great loss, but no hope or gain. If Christ had not been raised, our faith becomes futile as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthinas 5:17 because a dead man has no power; it would do us no good. But this is not the case. When we encounter the living Christ Jesus our lives are transformed. Everything else becomes of secondary importance. Through forgiveness and grace we find a completeness that we would never choose to give up deliberately.
Jesus’ resurrection is the key to life. For those who understand, experiencing the overwhelming love of God that comes through His son is something to be grasped at all costs. When we look past the shallow commercialisation of Easter, we discover something that is profoundly shocking, but ultimately life-affirming and life-changing.
May you know the love, joy and power of Jesus resurrection this Easter.