Easter: A New Thing
We like to think 21st century humanity is somehow superior to past generations, possessed as they were with less knowledge and sophistication, but the invasion of Ukraine tells us otherwise. The unspeakable depravity visited upon the Ukrainian people by Russian forces completely dispels any illusion we might have held that humanity’s intellectual evolving over centuries has flowed universally to a more advanced moral civility.
If we are honest with ourselves, we did not need the Ukrainian invasion to tell us this. Here in Australia, we have held some asylum seekers and refuges in detention for almost a decade. We incarcerate our indigenous population at rates hardly exceeded anywhere in the world. We enjoy a political system which scrutinises welfare recipients, but protects incompetence, even corruption, by legislators. We know that a sustainable future for the planet now hangs on a knife edge, yet here in Australia we would rather defend and prolong past harmful activity than invest in a sustainable future.
Two thousand years ago an enigmatic figure and his donkey made a short trip into Jerusalem. This trip and its fateful destiny had become an inevitability because his vision, and the power structures of his time, religious or secular, were on a collision course. His announced ‘kingdom’ and the way power operates were, (indeed are), irreconcilable.
For a while the crowd misunderstood, they thought he offered a similar power structure, but more powerful, one that was on their side rather than Rome. When it became clear this was not Jesus’ agenda their cry of ‘hosanna’ changed to ‘Crucify’. This misunderstanding, or worse, terrible misrepresentation prevails today. In the US the right of politics is filled with the halleluiah choruses of those who see Jesus’ mission fulfilled in Donald Trump, while it is reported that the Russian Colonel in charge of troops murdering civilians in Bucha was blessed by a Russian Orthodox bishop before he left for the invasion.
The sad truth is that we are all no different, we seldom seek a different way, we simply want a power structure that is more transparently mirroring our view of the world, rather than a way that seeks a civility embracing all creation inclusive of humanity: recognising that none should “think of themselves more highly than they ought to think”.
While claiming Christian commitment, it is clear the present Australian government has completely lost its way and should be defeated at the May election, we can only hope that its replacement will be less partisan, more consultative, and more transparent.
The events of what we now call Good Friday are well known. A man who had chosen for himself the title ‘Son of Man’ was made to carry his cross and face the fate of a common criminal. All humanity is embraced in his self-chosen title. He saw himself no more but no less than common humanity, the cross of all humanity is being borne here. This is the point. Ukraine reminds us that in the pursuit of self-interest and fed by prejudice and ignorance we all live lives but a hairs breadth away from criminality. Domestic violence, homelessness, a thousand dollar an hour salary for some and twenty-three dollars an hour for those who care for us in our old age; wanton disregard for habitat, etc are all part of the same spectrum.
This ‘Son of Man’ faced both the religious and politically powerful. Before Pilate he was asked “what is truth”? All humanity must face the same question, but most of us are too afraid, or too self-absorbed. What Pilate could not grasp was that the truth he sought was being lived out right in front of him.
While over the past two thousand years many saintly women and men, followers of Jesus, have understood and followed his way, in our time some have intuitively understood, while not outwardly calling themselves Christian – Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela come to mind. Others, less well known, have also followed the way of the cross, like the Palestinian Mohammed El Halabi who languishes in an Israeli gaol because he refuses to confess to a crime he has not committed. A false confession would give comfort to his oppressors who wish to further disempower his people.
All of this is pretty grim, unbearably so if it were the end of the story. But it is not.
Good Friday gave way to an astonishing truth – love is more powerful. It cannot be vanquished. When there is light, darkness must give way. No matter what happened yesterday, today offers possibilities of a new thing. Today is a day never lived before and can be filled with grace. Easter is not primarily about an empty tomb but about the irrepressible presence of life, focussed in the Easter narrative on the one who is its source.
Isaiah, who is traditionally read in the lead up to Easter, speaks of the promise of a ‘new thing’. What he is referring to is not ‘new’ in the sense of never having been tried before, but new in the sense of ‘renewing’ that which has the power to make new.
In the Ukraine we have glimpsed this ‘new thing’ in the extraordinary generosity and courage of thousands who have provided safe refuge. We have seen it in the Ukrainian grandmothers who have shaken their brollies at Russian soldiers and told them to go home to their own mothers and grandmothers, and hopefully we will see it in a Ukrainian nation which will seek justice but not revenge.
Here in Australia, we desperately need to experience a ‘new thing’ and to hear its promise in the lead up to the May election.