A good question: What does the Easter story mean to you?
One question, four answers
‘It means everything’
The short answer is: “Everything”. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection tells us about the nature of God. It tells us about God’s relationship with us. It describes how the world changed forever because of Jesus’ resurrection. It tells us how we should live our lives now in the light of that change. It even reveals something to us about our own lives beyond the grave. For me, the Easter story and what it means properly falls under the heading of “Life, the universe and everything”.
It is, obviously, impossible to do justice to the enormity of the Easter story in just 450 words, so instead I want to bring out two themes that are particularly important.
The first is how we define the Easter story. The way in which we celebrate the Christian festivals, and indeed the way in which we talk about theology in general, encourages us to atomise the story so that we talk about “the death” or “the Resurrection”. As a result, it is easy to become either Good Friday Christians or Easter Day Christians, so that we focus almost entirely on Jesus’ death to the exclusion of all else or Jesus’ resurrection to the exclusion of all else. The reality is that salvation was achieved through the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ death freed us from the old way of being; Jesus’s resurrection frees us for a new way of being. The one without the other is incomplete. The Easter story has to include both dying and rising, despair and hope, sorrow and joy for it to be complete…
Paula Gooder is Theologian in Residence at the Bible Society
‘The darkness will never put out the light’
From his birth to his death, Jesus embodied a positive message: “God loves you. Love God, and love your fellow human beings.” He spoke this message with his lips and demonstrated it through his life – and his actions earned him powerful enemies. The religious leaders, who should have been totally in tune with Jesus’ message, resented him and saw Jesus as a threat to their own status. Instead of welcoming Jesus, they sought to get rid of him. They succeeded in transforming the jubilation of Palm Sunday into the heartbreak of Good Friday in just a few days. Even Jesus’ disciples lost their nerve and ran away. In the story of Easter we see how politics and power can be presented as religion, and the devastating effects of religion misused.
I live and work in Luton, a place where faith matters. That is a good thing – all the major religions have a message of love and peace at their centre. Yet Luton often finds itself portrayed in a negative light. Religious and political events on the world stage can quickly impact life in the town. Religion can be misused to polarise, to make us view others with suspicion or resentment, to promote a message of hate. Just as in Jesus’ day, so much seems to be about politics and power rather than our relationship with the God who calls us to love both God and neighbour.
In Luton, there has long been a small extremist Muslim presence. This led to the formation of the English Defence League (EDL), claiming to act in defence of Christian values. More recently, Britain First have turned their attentions on the town, arriving unannounced to carry out “Christian patrols”. These groups and their actions serve to stir up unrest and fear. Left unchecked, they could succeed in breeding hatred and separation – even amongst people of faith. How easily the voices of hate seem able to distract us from the God-given call to love and forgive. How easily the cries of the crowds were turned from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify him!”…
Karen Campbell is a Church Related Community Work Minister serving in Luton
‘The Resurrection is the ultimate act of civil disobedience’
The people who killed Jesus did not defeat him. Jesus was executed by one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever known. He was tortured to death with the collusion of various political factions and religious leaders. In proclaiming his resurrection, it seems to me that we are celebrating his ultimate triumph over those oppressive powers that nailed him to a cross.
I have heard several talks on the subject of “Why did Jesus die?” Rarely is the question answered: “Because people killed him”. Even more rarely is it asked why these people killed him.
Jesus was executed as a troublemaker by the Roman Empire. Even the Romans did not execute people for innocuous teachings. Jesus’ life, words and actions were a challenge to the powerful. He was the freest person who ever lived.
He was not killed by “the Jews”, as some Christians sadly maintain. True, it seems that certain Jewish leaders may have colluded in his death. They were already collaborating with the Roman occupation and did not represent Jews generally. Their counterparts today can be found in religious leaders of several faiths who are happy to excuse oppressive rulers…
Symon Hill is a Christian activist and author. His latest book is The Upside-Down Bible: What Jesus really said about money, sex and violence (DLT, 2015, £9.99)
‘Jesus’ death creates a gulf between God and worldly power’
Why is the suffering and death of Jesus so important? This is the first part of the question. Couldn’t he have been whisked off to heaven just as things were getting dangerous? Or couldn’t he have lived to old age, spreading the Good News about the kingdom? No – in either case the religion that Jesus founded would be very different. It would be less starkly distinct from political power. His death creates a gulf between God and worldly power. Without this, I’m not sure I could sign up to Christianity. I think I would agree with secular humanists that all forms of monotheism promote various dangerous forms of theocracy.
As for the Resurrection – the second part of the question – I see it as central to Christ’s divinity. My thinking on the subject has developed. In my youth I sometimes felt that Christians should rethink “literal” belief, and present the Resurrection as a myth that gives life meaning. But this approach doesn’t really add up. It’s a mug’s game, trying to develop a “post-literal” version of Christian belief. For this religion is utterly rooted in the language of worship – you can’t get behind it. At the end of the day, one either speaks in this ritual language or one does not. And, of course, affirming the bodily Resurrection of Jesus is basic to this ritual tradition.
But there’s more to the Resurrection than belief in the bodily raising of Jesus. It is linked up to a belief in a more general resurrection of the dead – which was originally envisaged not as “going to heaven when you die”, but as part of the cosmic event that Christ brings when he comes again in glory…
Theo Hobson is a freelance theologian and writer
This is an extract from the April 2016 edition of Reform.