This year we have not had to concoct a feeling of desolation appropriate for Good Friday. Many have been experiencing it for years through a relentless drought. Here on the coast we have intensely experienced it though the bushfires, some of us have lost homes and livelihoods, and globally we now experience it through the COVID 19 pandemic. If we, 21st century human beings, think we are bullet proof, that we are the masters of our world, think again. And then there is Easter!
While we can all bask in the security of feeling we are not personally to blame for the almost biblically proportioned pestilences that have been visited upon us, the fact is that globally we are culpable. We know all too well that we embrace an economic system that takes no prisoners. Nothing is to get in the way of economic growth, certainly not sustainable environmental practice, and up till now, not too much empathy or sympathy for vulnerable humans who have fallen by the wayside either. Asserting that their poverty and vulnerability has arisen from their own ineptitude is the thinly veiled message of the dominant economic narrative. The droughts and the bushfires, we are told, are part of the Australian landscape – nothing to see here; except science affirms they are directly related a culture of human dominance at the expense of natural stewardship.
What about COVID 19? Like HIV Aids, SARS, and the Spanish flue, it has almost certainly arisen from inappropriate interference with, and exploitation of, animals. While we can look down our noses at the wet markets of China and similar markets of Africa, our Australian behaviour towards animals is no less catastrophic in its consequence. Innumerable species now face extinction because of our unrelenting ‘conquering of nature’.
So, in 2020 as we look to the cross and hear the cries of Jesus, we have every reason to be penitent, to realise we indeed have been responsible for the load he carried and the injustice that was perpetrated.
There is no route to Easter, other than by way of the cross. Letting go is not easy. Jesus said: “what you hold onto you lose, what you give away you keep”. While the ultimate ‘letting go’ of death has been forced upon thousands of COVID 19 victims world-wide, for us it still lies ahead. In the meantime there are many large or small ‘letting goes’ we have to embrace in order that we might celebrate life. Whether we will be up for this when COVID 19 is over, only time will tell.
Like me, many of you will have already experienced little Easters when what had been pain and disaster has given way to new life and light – life and light that would not have been there otherwise. It is one of the deep paradoxes of life that experiences we would do almost anything to avoid, often become the fertile soil from which transformation and real growth occurs.
Easter is both deeply personal and profoundly cosmic. The Church was born, not out of the empty tomb, but out of the disciples’ deeply personal experiences of meeting the risen Christ. These experiences were so profoundly real that they and the early converts gladly suffered their own martyrdom in witness to Jesus, the song who filled their hearts with singing, and the new life that was now on offer in his company. I thank God for moments in my own life in which the presence of God in Christ has been intense.
As wonderful as they are, if Easter is only about these personal experiences of God in Jesus, this would not be enough, certainly not enough to make it history’s pivot point. The New Testament links the resurrection to creation, indeed a new creation. The words of Jesus on the cross: “It is finished”, mimic the words of Genesis 2:2, recording that creation is complete. While decay and mortality are a necessary consequence of a finite creation, by inserting himself into the created order in human form, God lifts the whole created order out of an endless cycle of death and dying, gifting it with the promise of redemption, of new life. That’ right, the whole created order. Nothing that God touched can ever be lost. As Bishop Howell Witt used to say in his parish missions, we and the created order have marched to the drum beat of ‘birth life death, birth life death’: now we are called to march to the drum of ‘birth life death life, birth life, death life’. To do this though, we have to let go of our obsession with earthen jars and their contents.
Easter defines Christianity, as Paul says without the resurrection, we of all people are most to be pitied.
While we await our final moment of physical dying as a precursor to eternal life, we are called to live as resurrection people, believing that life is constantly on offer. Our identity can no longer be tied to what we own or possess, but to the company we keep, or at least desire to keep, and the desire to love and be loved.
As we dare to believe we may soon be moving out of pandemic restrictions, will we quickly slip back into our old ways, or will we cherish the new opportunities for life this threat has brought us. Are we now likely to set side adversarial politics for consensus and cooperation? Are we likely to remove countless concession to the wealthy in order that we might maintain generosity to the needy? Are we now more likely to spend money on building security through respirators, masks and the like; establish responsible emission targets and practice water conservation? Or will we continue to foster old rivalries and divisions, spend billions on submarines that will likely be out of date before they are delivered, and allow ideology to trump compassion trust and cooperation?
Easter has given birth to life, creativity, imagination and service at it best. Bach was the fifth evangelist! May we cherish this new life every day, being intolerant of that which diminishes, whist choosing that which nourishes life.
I set before you this day Life and Death, blessing and cursing – choose life.