The surprising lessons of Easter

Themba Gamedze’s sermon for Hillside Vineyard – 12 April 2020.

This particular Easter weekend of the year 2020 will surely be commemorated for all time as a strong contender for the prize for “The weirdest global Christian celebration ever”, principally because of the almost total absence of any discernible celebrations anywhere in the entire world!

I would venture that the only weekend worse than this one was the very first Easter – an Easter that was initially experienced in deep depression and debilitating disappointment and fear of anticipated reprisals at the hands of the religious authorities of the day.

So, why is Easter important?

Of course, there are many possible answers to that question, but for me at this time, I would like to share three reasons that make Easter important to me, all based on the most persistent philosophical questions that are generally asked.

The first question is that if God does exist, what kind of God are we talking about? My reading of the Easter narrative is that amongst its many lessons, it also teaches us about a God who takes full responsibility for the worlds’ pain and suffering.

The second question is one about good and evil: Will good ever really triumph over evil? Well, despite his human weakness, Jesus took on all the forces of evil marshalled against him, and emerged victorious. We must therefore believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

The third question is about life after death: Is life after death a literal possibility or just a childish fairy tale? Easter leaves us with a most emphatic claim that, after our familiar physical life is over, death is no longer the final end of our stories, but that a sentient life that is worthwhile, has become a genuine prospect for us all.

So…question 1: What kind of God is revealed in the Easter story?

Surprisingly, we see a God who makes Himself accountable

It was the turn of the 20th Century historian, Lord Acton, who is credited with the now famous, but almost always misquoted, saying, that:

“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

My understanding of this phenomenon is that increasing power provides a bigger and bigger platform for our weaknesses to be displayed and for our selfishness to be expressed. At some un-predetermined point, the reduction in accountability that comes with this increase in power, simply becomes unmanageable.

So, any belief in an all-powerful God must address the question about why it is, that this absolutely powerful God is not absolutely corrupt.

The events of Easter are central to answering this question.

It is only a God who would be willing to give up everything and put Himself through the kind of suffering we associate with Good Friday, that can be trusted to wield omnipotence, without even the whiff of corruption.

Our image of God watching “helplessly”, as his eternal son suffered to the point of death, should always assure us that this God who holds absolute power is paradoxically also a God who knows what it is to feel desperate, to feel helpless, and even to experience powerlessness.

On…to question 2: How realistic is the prospect of the triumph of good over evil?

Once again, Easter provides us with the answer, because, apart from seeing a God who makes himself accountable, we also see a Son of God who makes Himself the cure for the failings of others

The current Covid-19 global pandemic provides a perfect analogy for the spiritual disease with which all humanity is inflicted – a disease we call sin. This is not about actual wrongs we have done but about our consistent tendency to disappoint ourselves and others by misusing the power, freedom and privilege that we have been given.

Addressing wrongs done, or sins committed in the past, while representing a genuine challenge, is nevertheless an issue that is capable of resolution. However, the same is not the case in respect of our innate tendency to fall short of any moral standards we may set for ourselves.

In other words, the real problem has always been our “sinfulness”, because, left to our own devices, that tendency is something we carry with us into any possible future and thereby contaminate that future, and so on, into perpetuity.

If we think of ourselves as having not only having physical DNA, but also having spiritual DNA, our 21st century brains might be able to comprehend the possibility that our corrupted spiritual DNA could be fixed through genetic editing involving Jesus’ pure DNA.

So, the good news of Easter is that God has miraculously made the cure for sinfulness available to all of humanity.

In that sense then, we can understand the blood of Jesus as providing the vaccine that is the cure for the previously incurable disease of our sinfulness and in that, lies the real hope that good will indeed triumph over evil.

Finally, question 3: Is it possible that life after death really a thing?

Well, in addition to seeing a God who makes himself accountable and a Son of God who makes himself the cure of the failings of others, in the story of Easter, we also see a Holy Spirit who makes even life after death possible

If human beings are built purely out of mechanical parts, like traditional motor cars, then taking out the engine (perhaps equivalent to the death of our brain) represents the end of life from which there is no possibility of an “after-life”. Without the engine, there is no car.

However, if human beings are more like robots, comprising two completely different types of components, in this case, both mechanical parts (i.e. hardware, equivalent to our physical bodies, including our brains) and code (i.e. software, equivalent to our spiritual identity – in other words our souls), then life after death could simply be about inserting the same software back into a new or renewed body. As a brief aside, I find it extremely amusing that we now talk of the remote storage of data and software “in “the cloud”, which is so reminiscent of the traditional idea that our souls ascend “into the clouds” and beyond.

Assuming then that life after death is even possible, the Easter story teaches us that the resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate today, was the first “final” resurrection and holds out the hope that it might perhaps not be the last such resurrection from death, into a potentially limitless life that is worth living.

Let us pray…

Father God: We worship you as one who has demonstrated beyond any doubt, your willingness to take full responsibility for reversing the cruel consequences of sin and the abuse of power upon our universe.

Father, may we likewise take responsibility for the own shortcomings and those of our communities.

Son of God: We adore you as the sacrificial Christ whose blood carries the ultimate cure to the disease that plagues all humanity – our inability to live up to our own moral standards, let alone those that you have set.

Jesus, may we continually drink from the living waters of your pure life and so be cleansed of our sins and become channels of that pure life to others.

Holy Spirit: We honour you for the power you displayed in raising Jesus from the dead and we look to you to restore us also to life with Jesus, when that day of final resurrection comes.

Holy Spirit, may we remain at all times ready to be instruments of your life-giving transformative power in the lives of our families, our communities and our nations.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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