Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter – a time to imagine: Auckland Church Leaders share an Easter message

Something I wrote which was adapted with input from Richard Waugh in particular, and a few others who contributed minor adjustments. Published in the NZ Herald Saturday 3 April; see http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10720638

Imagine there is a God who is loving, just and good. Suppose this God formed the world, full of beauty and with people like us in it. Imagine God's plan is for a world full of goodness, beauty, and love, free of horror, suffering and death.

Consider that this world was corrupted and became flawed, no longer utterly good but a mix of beauty and torment, suffering and joy, life and death. It is now a perplexing place; full of goodness and love, yet broken with the horror of earthquakes, tsunami, war, disease, struggle, and the inevitability of death.

Imagine then, that God resolved to 'save' this world; to deal with the horror and suffering. How might that look? For many, it would look like a revolution with God coming decisively to suppress all opposition with brute force. We know what this looks like. We have seen it in playground bullies and in the likes of dictators who impose 'peace' with ideology and force.

Such a hope was in vogue in Israel two thousand years ago. Empires ruled the world this way. Rome and her Caesars were the current power-holders. Many in Israel longed for release through a coming Messiah, a powerful descendent of David. They hoped he would come and assume control with God's power, leading the overthrow of the ruthless Romans and establishing God's reign and 'peace' across the world.

When understood in this context, the Easter Story is the stunning account of God's Son coming to save his world in a totally unanticipated fashion. The Christian faith is built on the conviction that, in Jesus of Nazareth, God came to earth. Rather than coming in blazing glory, wealth and power, he came in poverty and obscurity, born among animals in the insignificant town of Bethlehem. For thirty years he was a complete unknown.

At age thirty, Jesus began his work. Rather than impose himself with power and call the nation to war, he avoided the mainstream and went out among the poor, marginalised and lost, feeding, healing, and preaching God's love and forgiveness. After three years, without a stain on his character, he was betrayed by a friend and arrested.

Jesus was questioned with evidence supplied by false witnesses, and then handed on to the Roman authorities who had the power to put him to death. The Roman procurator Pilate could find no fault with him, but out of political expediency sentenced him to die. Dressed in purple and crowned with thorns, Jesus was mocked and ruthlessly beaten and flogged by the Roman soldiers. Exhausted, he was forced to walk the path to the cross where he was crucified under the ironical title, 'King of the Jews.'

As with any such crucifixion, the overall point was to warn all would-be revolutionaries "don't mess with Rome!" The crowds abused him mocking him as king, challenging him to come down and prove it himself with power. Between two genuine revolutionaries, completely abandoned, Jesus took it all without retaliation. Ultimately he said his final words, "it is finished," and breathed his last. A soldier pierced his side, and separated blood flowed verifying his death. He was taken down from the cross, placed in the tomb of a follower, blocked with a large stone, and guarded by Roman soldiers. The crowds left; another pretender to power defeated.

On the face of it, the event is insignificant; yet another story of a misguided agitator squashed by forces of the world. Or so it seemed.

On the Passover Sunday, a strange thing happened. Some women followers of Jesus came to the tomb to find the stone rolled away, the soldiers gone, and the tomb empty. They were confused as were his other followers.

Further strange events followed, with a series of appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee, and Syria. These experiences convinced his followers that Jesus had risen from the dead.

They pondered what had happened, remembering his teaching and the ancient prophecies. They realised God had come to save his world not as expected, by imposing himself with military force and suppression, but as a servant to save through humility, selflessness, sacrifice and death. In coming to die for the world, Jesus had become the final sacrifice for sin.

Jesus came to overcome evil, not illegitimately with compulsion, but through his refusal to yield to evil as it did its worst to defeat him. He overcame
the worst enemy of humanity, death, ironically by dying himself, and being raised from the dead to overcome it. He came to invite the world to turn and believe in him so that the world can experience this life, hope and resurrection power.
Jesus came to invite the world to live in a new way, to live not for prestige, power, and wealth but out of the pattern he had laid down in his service. 

His death through political intrigue and violent force is the doorway into a new world which should be free of such horror. Sadly, we still have not come to fully understand what Jesus' death and resurrection means. It was the death to end all deaths and a call to bring a reconciling peace to God's world. 

Imagine if we were all gripped with this message today. How might the world look if we lived out the ethic of Jesus, whatever the cost? This is what the first Christians did. Despite facing insurmountable odds, rejection, persecution, suffering and martyrdom, they courageously refused to be silenced, and the message of peace spread throughout the Roman world. Within 300 years, without the use of violent force, this story became the religion of the whole Roman world. Now, over one third of the world's population are followers of Jesus in some way or another. Since Marsden's first sermon at Christmas in the Bay of Islands in 1814, our nation has to a large extent been shaped by this ethic.  

It is significant this year that Easter falls on the same weekend as ANZAC Day. Gallipoli and the stories of our people giving their lives for freedom and love reveal the struggle our world faces, and remind us of the power of sacrifice and service for others. The challenge of this world goes on.

We,
Christian leaders of Auckland City, invite you this Easter to join the two billion followers of Jesus in the world today,
to spend time acknowledging the meaning of Easter. The events of Easter vividly tell the story of God, who, with arms outstretched, invites us all to find forgiveness and salvation through Christ and to join the global movement to see God's world restored. Imagine what would happen if we all said yes.

Endorsed by:

Rev. Dr Neville Bartle, National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene

Right Rev. Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland

Rev. Norman Brookes, Auckland Superintendent, Methodist Church of New Zealand

Pastor Luke Brough, National Leader, Elim Churches

Pastor Terry Calkin, Senior Pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre

Rev. Murray Cottle, Regional Consultant, Baptist Churches of New Zealand

Pastor Paul de Jong, Senior Pastor, LIFE Church

Bishop Patrick Dunn, Roman Catholic Bishop of Auckland

Mr Peter Eccles, Auckland District Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand

Pastor Vic Francis, Chairman of the Association of Vineyard Churches Aotearoa New Zealand

Pastor Ken Harrison, Superintendent, Assemblies of God New Zealand

Pastor Brian Hughes, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel

Rev. Fakaofo Kaio, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

Rev. Andrew Marshall, Director, Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches

Very Rev. Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean, Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral

Pastor Bruce Monk, National Leader, Acts Churches NZ

Pastor Sam Monk, Pastor, Equippers Church

Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Churches

Major Heather Rodwell, Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army

Pastor Eddie Tupai, President North NZ Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church

Rev. Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand

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