Is Easter Still Relevant For Modern People?

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.

Bibliography

“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.

Revelation 1 and meta narratives: what story is shaping your life?

The crazy apocalyptic guy has existed in society for a long time. After awhile it can be easy to tune out. You can only predict the end of the world or the return of Jesus at decade intervals so many times before the whole thing starts to look like a sham. And besides, who’s more convincing – the guy with the billboard on the streets or the climate apocalypse espoused by Greta Thunberg on a UN podium?

But interestingly enough with Greta Thunberg is that the amount of attention and press she was receiving (before the coronavirus shut down that whole thing) I think showed that more people than I think know inevitably that the curtains will be drawn up, the show will end and leave us looking at one another in the dark. We differ as to how to handle that or what the end will look like but we can agree that this life is not going to go on forever.

Yet we so often live our lives as something infinite until the day death knocks on our door or we face the catastrophe of a crushed civilization. As a postmodern millennial whateveryounameit, it seems like the rejection of meta narratives in the West have reached they completion at times. But at other times, that search for a transcendent meaning to life and something universal leaks through our daily facade. Beyond self development courses and career progression, beyond hobbies and investment properties, we see something wrong with where the world is going and we inevitably care. But a transcendent yearning without a transcendent framework means all we can do is vaguely empathize and hope and maybe…protest? I don’t know what else society would expect us millennials to do.

It’s becoming harder and harder to live in our self secured bubbles. We can’t turn a blind eye to the injustice and suffering we still so often see in an interconnected, constantly available media. But at the same time, we can’t go back to religion. Our parents jumped off that cliff years ago. We can only fly as Ichabod did towards the vague and distant sun. In such a helpless position, what else can we do?

Here’s a novel thought. Maybe it’s time to believe in the transcendent again. We’ve had enough little stories. What we need is a big one, one that we can see and touch and taste for ourselves, like all the ones we were told when we were children which break through the screen of our superhero movies into the world as we know it. One that has a beginning and an end and of course a battle to be fought in the middle, inclusive of every nation and people and with a final and complete ending. It’s one that John receives ironically in the book of Revelation. “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” (Rev. 1.4-5). To the one who has ears let him hear!

Don’t Scratch That Itch

Restlessness is a lot like a vague itch. It hides under your clothes. And sometimes it feels like no matter how much you try to scratch it through your sweater it’s hiding right under the surface of your skin. Itches are rarely seen and most of the time they’re pretty benign. But sometimes you take off your coat and realize you’ve been nursing a pressure sore that is slowly eating you away.

I listened to Tim Keller’s sermon on Hebrews 4 last week and realized that restlessness is seen in the boredom of being alone and the inescapable cycles of busyness we live in. We like to deal with our restless itch by scratching it with our activities and rituals and relationships, as though being busier would make that itch go away rather than eventually break out of the skin and bleed out our soul.

Some people have a megaphone conscience and acutely feel the restlessness it generates. Others more self assured, pour themselves into their accomplishments, unable to stop, not so much ignoring the restlessness but being unaware of what truly drives them. They can only sense a vague unease and the inability to be alone by themselves. No wonder laying down to sleep can be a terror for so many. Restlessness can have many masks and who knows where else she lurks? Underlying all of that is a relational problem of your self’s inability to relate its self to its self.

I wish I was like a child again! When we were children we would fear the boogeyman at night but as adults we dread ourselves. While half of me is faced with my shortcomings the other looks up into the blinding radiance of God’s being. The infinite gap between God and myself, is like a beautiful woman that terrifies and makes you conscious of your own deficits. As Keller preached on Hebrews 4, I was reminded that we’re always trying to cover that up by our own priestly sacrifices to get rid of that unclean restlessness.

Like every human, I long to be okay. But what do you do when the measuring stick is an infinite being and the chase is endless? What sacrifice is ever enough? Sometimes I think maybe if I just knew a little bit more anatomy I would be a better physiotherapist. Or if I just could make some money I would be a more loving husband. And so on until what I’m really hoping for is to be a better person. With each sacrifice, I secretly hope it’s the final one.

A popular saying is that ‘there is no rest for the weary’. Restlessness doesn’t go away no matter how much we sacrifice ourselves to appease our conscience because they’re never good enough. We often think that rest comes at the completion of our work the way God rested on the 7th day of creation from his. But true eternal rest is a gift of God. What blew my mind as I listened to Keller’s sermon was that entering God’s rest meant putting down every pretense in our life, to recognize our shame and nakedness before his piercing Word and to come weary to Jesus who would take our burdens. I only wish that entering that resting was as easy as I heard it preached. I guess that’s why it’s a gift. It’s something to ask for not earn.