First, let’s be clear about the Easter story. It says that, in first century Palestine, a man called Jesus attracted a large following among the common people by preaching the love of God for everyone and by working miracles of healing. He didn’t trust much in sheer popularity with crowds, however, and more and more focussed on getting his inner circle of disciples to really understand what he was saying and doing, as he led them on a quixotic walk to Jerusalem where, he said, his mission from God would culminate in his death. Accordingly, in Jerusalem, having caused a disturbance in the Temple itself by asserting his authority as God’s agent over against the priests and scribes, he was arrested, tried and executed by crucifixion. His crime was blasphemy for the Jewish leaders, sedition for the Roman governor.
His story, of course, would have disappeared into the mists of time soon afterwards, like that of thousands of other disruptive colonials, if not for what happened next. Two days after his death, by our way of counting, his tomb was found empty. At first that caused distress and confusion, but then various individuals began reporting that they had met him alive again. Then the whole group of his inner circle found him gathered with them a couple of times. Then he left them but, in another group experience one morning, they felt a power come over them which took away their fears and empowered them to go out into a hostile world. They said that the Son of God had lived and died and risen among them and that those who repented their sins and believed in him would similarly be able to live with a new freedom in this life and ultimately rise from the dead. That was the Good News of Easter. Most people didn’t believe it, but those who did were soon having their own experiences of ‘meeting’ Jesus, of feeling the power of the Spirit in their lives and of seeing others transformed as they came to believe. And people continue to this day to have those experiences of Jesus’ presence, his Spirit, his transforming power. Easter is about Jesus being alive now.
So, Easter in Australia. It’s a long weekend, and if that is allows family time and a bit of a break from stress, that is no bad thing. But I’d like us all to understand that for Christians it is so much more. I’m used to Australians being sceptical, whether they’re non-believers or just jaded Christians. But I’d still like the whole community to draw some joy and hope from our Easter celebrations. It is surely no bad thing for a country to have a lot of people who believe that God loves us all, that Christ gave his life for us all and, by his rising, opened up a great hope for us all. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation for a lot of people’s lives of joy, of hope, of confidence in the future, of aspiration to live lives worthy of what has been done for us. A belief that brings so much good to the lives of so many deserves to be honoured even by those who do not share it. We can all at least be glad that there is an Easter. Happy Easter! And to fellow believers, Alleluia!