Cross and Resurrection: From desolation to hope

What does Easter mean to us? Today, as we look around us, we don’t seem to have much cause to cheer.

Mar 23, 2016

BY Anil Netto
What does Easter mean to us? Today, as we look around us, we don’t seem to have much cause to cheer. The economy is tanking, people are losing their jobs, many school-leavers and graduates cannot find work with dignity. Instead many migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are exploited.

The prices of essential items have soared. We have been left numb by mega corruption scandals that have drained our public coffers. Not a few politicians have disappointed us, our hopes of a better future dashed.

Even Nature, the weather appears to have turned against us with the sweltering heat and scorched earth leaving us drenched with perspiration. Climate change is upon us.

We are left feeling helpless. In this helplessness and despair, we can perhaps get an inkling of how the followers of Jesus must have felt when he was grabbed from them, hauled up for a sham trial, tortured and executed on a cross. The desolation they must have felt would have been indescribable. Why did he have to be put to death? A man who preached love and compassion, sentenced to death?

For clues, last week we saw how Jesus raged against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his time for compromising the integrity and sanctity of the temple. He had threatened the stability of the temple, whose leaders had come into a neat arrangement with the political Roman rulers — an arrangement which craftily exploited and subjugated the people in the name of religion.

Jesus’ overturning of the money-changers’ tables struck at the heart of this collaborative pact, and it threatened the superficial peace through military might, established by the Romans in a distant periphery of the Empire.

Jesus was hauled away, accused of religious crimes — blasphemy, and not following the religious rules of his time. But he also died the death of a political agitator, in the traditional Roman form of punishment reserved for rebels, etc, a “king of the Jews” who had threatened the established order.

What was it about Jesus’ teachings that so threatened the status quo?

Jesus had preached about the coming of a new Kingdom that was antithetical to the existing order upheld by the political and religious elites of his time. He brought the Good News to the Poor. And what did that entail? That every human being, every creature, including the sparrows, even the lilies in the field, was precious in God’s sight.

He preached the liberation of captives. Now, captives, here, could mean those imprisoned, the tortured, those enslaved by money, greed, selfishness… anyone held down by the chains of bondage and oppression, whether imposed externally or self-imposed. Spies would have reported his words to the religious authorities of his time.

He shared bread among the poor, so that no one would go hungry. He brought to the table those who had previously been excluded and marginalised. The wealthy who were exploiting casual workers and grabbing the land of debt-saddled smallholders must have shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

This was the new Kingdom that was so radically at odds with the existing order, at the apex of which sat the Roman Emperor, seen as some kind of son of god, a deified being faraway in distant Rome. This order exalted wealth, material possession, grand monuments, conquests, war and military victory. Might was right.

But the Father had other ideas. Jesus, advocating God’s justice, love, compassion, was incarnated among the huddled masses, the destitute, the sick, the lame and the blind. He sought out those that society had ostracised — the tax collectors, the prostitutes, those seen as lesser persons, the migrants and the foreigners, women and children.

This invariably put him on a collision course with the established order.

They put him to death, thinking that would be that, and all would return to normalcy. They thought the cross would put an end to the funny, perhaps, ‘seditious,’ ideas Jesus had introduced and spread.

But the Father had other ideas. Jesus’ resurrection — which was much more than a Lazarus’ awakening — was a vindication of everything that Jesus had stood for. His body was transformed beyond the recognition of even his closest followers.

His mission was also given New Life, infused by the Spirit. Thus was the psalmist’s message about the Spirit fulfilled (104:30): “Send out your breath and life begins; you renew the face of the earth.” And that is now our mission too.

This message inspired the band of followers he had left behind to drive forward to the ends of the earth to usher in this new Kingdom of love, justice, truth, compassion. To share in the breaking of bread among the ordinary people, especially those whom society had forgotten and marginalised.

We are to continue to bring this Good News to the Poor. But the poor and the marginalised have something teach us and remind us too. The test is still relevant to us today as it was in Jesus’ time: are we upholding an unjust established, corrupt and compromised order or are we driving forth to herald the new Kingdom that Jesus ushered in for us?

That is why the cross and the resurrection go together. The cross — a symbol of Roman injustice, excruciating violence and death to those seeking freedom from oppression — has been transformed by the Resurrection, into a symbol of hope against the forces of oppression, injustice, violence and death.

The cross, today, reminds us that no matter what the threats, challenges and odds placed in the path of those seeking true freedom from oppression and the bonds of sin, we have the promise of hope and vision of the new life that the Father has guaranteed for us through Jesus’ Resurrection.

This is why the darkness and desolation that presently envelopes our communities, our nation, our world, should not leave us feeling despondent and in despair. Instead, the promise of new life means we should reconsecrate ourselves to the mission of bringing this new life to all who long for it, by transforming our world in every way we can.

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