…. not the path to a life of harmony and peace.
The 1924 Hibbert Journal published what appears to be the earliest printed version of a very well-worn joke with the final punchline: “a gintleman with a face like your honour’s can’t miss the road; though, if it was meself that was going to Letterfrack, faith, I wouldn’t start from here.”
It is relatively easy for most Australians to dismiss the message and celebration of Easter as bizarre religious pageantry of dubious historical origin and of no contemporary relevance; thus treating the weekend solely as a holiday and the finale of a hot cross bun eating season that began on Boxing Day.
But think again.
Almost all human beings desire a secure and stable world. A world which offers a reasonable expectation of wellbeing and harmony for our children and grandchildren. A world where the memory of war recedes into the background. A world in which the rich do not have too much, and the poor do not have too little. A world in which all experience the freedom to live with opportunity to thrive, where trust and respect is normal, greed and exclusion an aberration.
Are we on a trajectory towards such a world? We might wish!
The Easter message is: if this is really the world we hope for, then we are not heading in the right direction. There is only one route that leads to harmony, justice, wellbeing, life in all its fullness and that is the way of service, putting the other first, sacrifice – the way of the cross. The problem is that for most of us, this is too counter-intuitive.
Early Christians compiled a song which found its way into Paul’s letter to the city of Philippi, a city familiar with Roman power, grandeur and brutality, and an emperor who desired to be worshipped as a God.
Have the same mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus
Who, though he was in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.
He emptied himself taking the form of a slave.
And became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.
In the Christian narrative, the cross unveils the very surprising but true nature of God and at the same time it reveals the true nature or calling of humanity. Both God and humanity are on the cross. Whatever thought you may have of a ʹhigher powerʹ, Christianity requires you to think humility, think emptying, think generosity, think forgiveness, think service. Equally, whatever thought you may have of humanity at its best, think the same.
This is counter intuitive for all of us, but it is especially counter intuitive for those who long for power and wealth and for those to whom everything else is expediency.
We do see glimpses of this higher nature in people of faith like Mother Theresa, or perhaps someone of faith near and dear to you. But equally we can discern the same nature in those with no necessary faith commitment like Nelson Mandela or one of my favourite Australians – Rosie Batty.
Overall, most of us miss the mark of being whom we could be – some of us terribly. I usually run a mile from Christian ʹin-wordsʹ most notably ʹsinʹ. But what it really means is failing to be the nature we are called to be.
So, if a world of peace and harmony is the world we all desire, why do we refuse to take that route?
Mainly because we have been conditioned to believe power, wealth, and ambition, sought publicly or personally, are a guaranteed short cut.
Ambition for supremacy from both Russia and the West is fuelling the awful war in Ukraine. Who knows how many lives have been lost on both sides, not to mention the millions of others who are permanently scarred. About 130 years ago Tsars Alexander and Nicholas commissioned Carl Fabergé to create jewelled eggs as Easter gifts for their mothers and wives. Eggs are symbols of life. Apparently, Easter was taken seriously in the Russia of the Tsars! Today, under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, 100 million Russian Orthodox adherents (70% of the population) are led to believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a sacred and noble obligation.
Whether it be, Ireland, Russia, India, Syria, or Israel, religion tied to political and national ambition always turns adherents away from the Easter hope of new life towards the darkness of human failure.
Perhaps, most of all, the Good Friday Easter message confronts human hubris in thinking that somehow, we are above nature, it is our vocation to conquer nature. As science (and religion) is telling us, we are part of nature, our health and wellbeing is completely tied to the wellbeing of the natural order. This has been unequivocally clear for decades, and yet we still engage in activity which not simply disrupts the natural order but is literally removing the sure ground upon which we might have hoped for continuity and security for generations to come.
Christianity grew rapidly in early centuries of the first millennium because it was apparent Christians believed in, and lived, a path that led to a world in stark contrast to the world of brutality and greed, they otherwise experienced. Today, in the West, Christianity is in steep decline. It is not transparently clear that Christians live by standards of humanity that contrast with the wealth and power ambitions endemic in our society.
The power of the Easter message does not lie in words, least of all in dogmas or doctrines, it is immersed in transformative lives. It is in transformative lives that the real blessing of Easter resides.
Let me finish with some other well-known words, these of course spoken by King George Vl
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.