A hope that looks away from ourselves
Today is Good Friday. In Australia, it’s a day that many look forward to. It’s a day to relax, to go away, to enjoy the fruit of our anxious toil and to be with those we love as we celebrate new life. Food, family and friends — this is the life that is shared on a million tables across the country. Many of my friends recall childhood memories of breaking chocolate eggs and bunnies and hot cross buns with one another. Yet I can’t help but feel that Easter seems pretty mundane to me and undifferentiated from any other holiday if that’s all there is. What exactly is the new life we’re celebrating and looking forward to?
For Christians, Easter is meant to be even more special. It’s the celebration that two thousand years ago, God became a man named Jesus who conquered death itself by his death and resurrection. Easter is a time Christians remember this victory and celebrate the new life they have. But it’s also one that looks forward to the new life they will have when he returns to dwell on a renewed earth.
Again I can’t help but feel that Easter even for a Christian seems pretty mundane to me and undifferentiated from any other Christian holiday like Christmas. What exactly is the new life we’re celebrating and looking forward to? The memory of a young man’s death and resurrection two thousand years ago seems pretty uninspiring right now. The world doesn’t seem to have changed much since. How is it relevant to our modern concerns? And where is Jesus in the world? Does anyone actually know him outside of this Sydney evangelical bubble? As I walk down Parramatta square or the bakery, he seems all but shelved behind the chocolate bunnies and eggs and hot cross buns on sale.
According to the journalist Julie Cross, more than fifty four percent of young Australians are stressed about the future. A study of more than 1000 Aussie teens aged 16-21 “found the most common causes of feeling stressed about the future were study and exam pressures (39 per cent), being able to afford the lifestyle they wanted (30 per cent), being able to survive financially (29.5 per cent), building a career in their chosen field (28 per cent) and their mental and physical health (28 per cent).”
As every young person knows, we aren’t who we should to be. Whether it’s our own character or competencies or relationships or environment, the pressure of being responsible for all of it is real and breeds anxiety. Every failure becomes an indictment of who we are. How could we not be afraid of failing to live up to our expectations? This is nothing new in 2022. The 19th century painter Vincent Van Gogh felt this acutely.
When I think the eyes of so many are fixed on me, who will know where the fall is if I do not succeed, who will make me reproaches… the fear of failure, of disgrace — then I also have the longing: I wish I were far away from everything! Van Gogh, Chapter 11, Naifer and Smith, 2011.
For this year, the Common Revised Lectionary directs us to read Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42. It’s not until I read Psalm 22.6-11 that I’m reminded why Easter matters again.
But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the Lord,” they say, “let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast. From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Psalm 22 looks forward to the day that the shame and guilt of being all too human would be redeemed by God. In fact, it was in the incarnation of God as man two thousand years ago that he finally had a human being who though he was perfect, was willing to bear our sin and shame before others and God, even to the point of death.
And so the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Rev Dr Fisher says,
Easter even focuses the light of love on our suffering to transform those who have suffered. Easter is the climax of the love-story between God and humanity. It’s the story of a love that drives out darkness, hatred and fear, that forgives sin and renews sinners, that raises up the lowly and heals the sick and grieving. Easter love means healing for every wounded soul.
This is a love that drives us away from ourselves and towards the God who became one of us and bore our shame to the point of death of a Roman cross only to rise victorious over it. We are not we should be. But by the grace of God, we can be who we are by being united in Jesus, free of the guilt and shame that tries to justify our existence and cover up our sins and imperfections. To live this way, one only has to look away from one’s self and look to the man on a cross.
“Hope Springs Eternal for Those Suffering – The Telegraph,” n.d., https://edition.pagesuite.com/popovers/dynamicarticlepopover.aspx?artguid=776008e9-5096-4b67-a3c2-e52e31712386.
“Breaking down the Wall – The Telegraph,” n.d., https://edition.pagesuite.com/popovers/dynamicarticlepopover.aspx?artguid=e4c766d7-305c-4240-ae34-222f9c319e62.
“Why Gen Stress Is Worried about Everything – The Telegraph,” n.d., https://edition.pagesuite.com/popovers/dynamicarticlepopover.aspx?artguid=8efb3e1e-890d-4a1c-8ff9-c82edee6ceb8.