John Foster tells how an enquirer from Hinduism approached an Indian Bishop. Unaided he had read the New Testament, and the story had fascinated him. In particular he was gripped by the person of Jesus Christ. He felt he had entered a new world. In the Gospels it was all about Jesus … his works, his suffering. In the Book of Acts it was all about the disciples of Christ … what they did, what they taught. They had taken the place Christ had occupied. The Church continued where Jesus left off. ‘Therefore’ this man said to the Bishop, ‘I must belong to the Church that carries on the life of Christ!’
When working through its call with integrity, the Church does indeed carry on the life of Christ at work in the world. There have been times during the last 2,000 years when the Church has lived up to being this kind of Church. There are parts of the world where the Church is growing phenomenally – China, South America, Africa – primarily because it is carrying on the life of Christ. We need to recover what it truly means, as Christians, to be an ‘Easter people living in a Good Friday World’!
This poignant expression, ‘We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world!’ was first coined by Barbara Johnson in her devotional book, Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life, and she should know. There was sorrow and tragedy connected to each of her three sons, her husband endured a long recovery from a near-fatal car accident and she fought cancer for six years before succumbing in 2007. She persevered through her life’s difficulties with faith and a strong sense of humour.
As Christians we are indeed an Easter people! We live this side of the historic and significant events of that first Easter. Christ has died, Christ has risen! As a result everything has been changed, for all time. A power has been released into the world sufficient to change everything, to change all of us, for the better! The Bible tells us that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that God raised Jesus from the dead and that this same power also lives in us as believers. The Apostle Paul wrote that ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you’ (Romans 8:11).
But we live in a Good Friday world. Good Friday is a symbol for the darkness in our world. This is the time of year when we, as those who seek to walk in the way of Jesus, especially reflect upon his death on the cross. The cross was a means of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to keep the occupied territories in check. Jesus was seen as a threat both to the security of the religious authorities and the domination of the Roman occupiers. Good Friday remains a symbol for the violence of hate of our own time. What Jesus endured and experienced that first Good Friday perfectly portrays the kind of world we live in today; the brokenness, the suffering, the pain, the hurting, the rebellion, the deceit, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the sin, the unfairness, the victimisation and so on. Two years ago on Palm Sunday ISIS suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people, injuring hundreds more and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage. How many mindless, senseless acts of hate-driven violence have there been in the world since then? In March this year 50 Muslim people died in two shootings in Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The man who perpetrated these horrendous murderous crimes attempted to find justification from the current hate-filled politics of America. Britain is still in the midst of Brexit negotiations. One of the appalling unforeseen consequences of a possible exit from the EU has been the legitimacy some seem to find from it for racial and religious prejudice. We live in Good Friday world!
As Easter people, we are called to live in the midst of this Good Friday world. During this Easter season, we remember that God’s love is more powerful than the forces of darkness. To be an ‘Easter people’, is a stance, a way of leaning into the world, hoping, trusting, believing that love expressed through forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, openness, welcome and non-violence will ultimately have the last word. Two thousand years ago hate and violence were overcome. Jesus died on the cross but rose victorious from the grave defeating the powers of darkness and all that which stands in opposition to God and his people. As Easter people, we continue to believe in the restorative power of God’s love at work in the world. As Church we continue to live out the life of Christ and his reconciling, renewing love in action. So despite all the Good Friday-ness of the world, as Pope John Paul II reminded us several years ago, ‘do not abandon yourselves to despair, for we are the Easter People, and “Hallelujah!” is our song!’