I am something of a fan of Doctor Who. A new season has just started, with a new companion, and the promise that the current Doctor will soon be replaced. A few years ago, there was an episode where the Doctor and his companion became separated, in locations where time passed at different rates. So the companion aged rapidly while hardly any time passed for the Doctor before he found her.
It’s a bit like that at this time of year for the Christians and the world around us. Just a short while ago we celebrated Easter, and in our traditions, the celebration of Easter extends for 50 days until Pentecost (this year, June 4). Our culture has moved on though. All the surplus chocolate eggs, bunnies, chickens, bilbies and what-have-you, have been sold off at 50% discount. World news has pushed those messages of hope and peace from Christian leaders well out of the spotlight. The airtime given to Anzac Day has surpassed that of Good Friday, and will in turn be itself eclipsed soon by that next great secular festival, the Budget.
We, however, shall spend most of May pondering Easter, at least, that will be the focus of our readings. What does Easter mean for the life of faith? There is no simple answer to that question. Broadly speaking, you can split the answers into those that focus on the communal implications of Easter (that is, for relationships between people) and the personal aspects (of our individual relationship with God).
From the point of view of community, Easter stands against the practice of violence, abuse and exclusion in the world as ways to maintain society. In his life, Jesus practised concern, acceptance and gentleness (albeit at times with strong language). Apparently he created a problem for the authorities, who decided to remove him using injustice, treachery, lies and violence. These are the same methods that were used to maintain order and stability in their society. His death should have meant the end of his small movement. But it did not. His followers gained new strength and determination. They talked of the resurrection of Jesus. This is far more than the resuscitation of a corpse (and to focus on that alone misses the point). It expresses the decision that the teaching and actions of Jesus represented the timeless will of God, a will, which, of course, is stronger than death.
What does that mean for us today? Listen to the news. How much of what is reported represents attempts to use violence, injustice, exclusion and abuse to solve problems? These are the time honoured methods of the world. It is easy for us to rationalise their use. How do we engage our heart in such situations, to bring acceptance, love and gentleness into the picture? Pondering that could easily fill the days until Pentecost!
As for the personal side of Easter, tracing the events of Jesus through Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Easter Day, reassures us about our relationship with God. In that short week, Jesus went from adulation to conflict, rejection and death. On the cross, he cried out that God had abandoned him. It is important not to avoid that statement by, for instance, rushing to observe that the Psalm quoted (Psalm 22) ends with hope. Jesus felt abandoned, as much as any human has ever felt abandoned. But the story did not stop there. Resurrection came, albeit after a few days.
What might that mean for us? Most of us lead complicated lives, where high moments and low are mixed. We might rejoice for a birthday or a wedding, but feel pain over a death, or sickness, or hassles with some organisation, or guilt. If God did not abandon Jesus on the cross, regardless of how abandoned Jesus felt, then God will not abandon us no matter how we feel. God is always with us. Sometimes in those moments of grief, or sickness, or fear or frustration or self-loathing, we cannot feel in our heart that God is with us. At those times, it is the job of the head to remind us of this. The days after Easter might be a time when in every situation we find ourselves in, we practice the habit of thinking or reminding ourselves that God is with us – on the bus, in the shop, when that unwelcome email/letter/phone call comes.
I will be enjoying leave almost up to Pentecost. During that time, you will be in my hearts and my thoughts. May the life of Easter fill you with hope.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
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