Amid this pestilence, listen to Easter's revolutionary message

Robert Forsyth

08 April 2020 | Australian Financial Review
Easter and the coronavirus have at least one thing in common. Both are in their own ways strange and unexpected. It is hard to realise how shocking the claim of the first Easter would have sounded at the time. As Tom Holland writes in his latest book Dominion, “That a man who had himself been crucified might be hailed as a god could not help but be seen by people everywhere across the Roman world as scandalous, obscene, grotesque.”

Even today the claim that God actually raised a man from the dead and who is at the centre of God’s good purposes for all humanity sounds literally incredible – even if many Christians around the world do believe it to be true.

And the coronavirus has turned our world upside down in ways we are still struggling to comprehend. It’s incredible how much has changed in just a month or so. Can it really be true that we all have to stay at home (unless you have a good excuse), that normal business and community life is restricted in unprecedented ways, that an invisible killer waits for us somewhere – on supermarket trolleys, door handles, and on the hands of our fellows?

And we do not know how long this will go on or how it will end. A world that seemed secure is insecure. Our health, our livelihood, our family and social life are all under question.

And yet the strange and unexpected message of Easter may have something important to say at the strange and unexpected time like this. It’s as though our shallow secular society is having its bluff called. Something more may be called for. Something deeper. The chirpy optimism of John Lennon’s Imagine seems oddly inadequate. We need more than Monty Pythons’ Always look on the bright side of life.

If we will listen, Easter has a revolutionary message for us. It makes the claim to be the window through which we will see the deepest truth about reality. Life as we experience it is open to many understandings. Maybe we are living in a world of ultimate chaos. There is no meaning, or direction or purpose. It just happens. We are caught in a pointless system.

On the other hand, maybe we are imprisoned in a world of blind necessity. There is nothing we can do about it. It just happens to us. In the end we are all dead. We are caught in a closed system.

In the year of the coronavirus it may be the time to be open to the strange and unexpected message of Easter.

Easter challenges both conclusions by asserting that the deepest truth of reality is love. The crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth looks like another pointless and cruel death. But in truth God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead says that the love God had in Christ Jesus will triumph over death. That the last word of all is love not death. Instead of Monty Python’s “Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it,” Easter proclaims “God so loved the world.”

English author Peter Hitchens expressed this revolutionary impact of Easter in 2013 when, in reply to a question by then Q&A ABC host Tony Jones about which dangerous idea has the greatest potential to change the world for the better, he asserted that “the most dangerous idea in human history and philosophy remains the belief that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and rose from the dead.”

When asked why, Hitchens responded, “Because it alters the whole of human behaviour and all our responsibilities. It turns the universe from a meaningless chaos into a designed place in which there is justice and there is hope and, therefore, we all have a duty to discover the nature of that justice and work towards that hope. It alters us all. If we reject it, it alters us all as well. It is incredibly dangerous. It’s why so many people turn against it.”

In the year of the coronavirus it may be the time to be open to the strange and unexpected message of Easter.

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