ANZAC Mythology and Jesus!

The Centenary of ANZAC Day is upon us and the attention of the nation will turn, once again, to remembrance.  One commentator has called into question the commercialisation and glamorous nature of so many elements of this commemoration.  He pointed to cruise ships off the Gallipoli coast, complete with tourist opportunities, pop stars and themed entertainment.  He commented upon the manner in which corporations have already been taken to task for equating their products with ANZAC mythology.  There are football matches that are advertised in war-like terms and as ‘ANZAC’ matches.  So much of this is far from the reality of ANZAC Day and the mythology that touches deeply into the hearts and minds of so many Australians who are looking for deeper meaning, hope and something of the spirit amidst the ordinary life.

As we turn our minds to this myth, central to Australia and our national story, we read the stories of this day in the light of the story that lies even more centrally within the life of the Christian Community – the Story of Jesus and the traditions of faith.  Whilst the two are not mutually exclusive neither are they mutually inclusive.  The Christian story has much to speak into the ANZAC mythology and the programs of war and conflict that entwine themselves into our conscience.

As I have spoken to many veterans over the years to understand their story, their experience – to listen and sit with them in the sacred space of their telling.  Most do not want to say very much about the actual experience.  For them war is too terrible, to horrific.  It is too much of hell!  For some the adventure of teenage years, responding to the call of King, Empire and country, began as an exciting interlude to ordinary life.  A bit of training and then off the see the world, battle and vanquish the foe and return in a few months to continue normal life.  They ended up in deserts, on cliff faces and in a plethora of strange places for which their training ill-prepared them.  One commented that the first day of war, reality struck deep, clear and horrifically quick.  In deserts he wasn’t ready for he realised that the enemy was shooting at him – real bullets, real grenades…  That first day two mates were killed.  This was real and it was dangerous deadly and he had no idea what he was doing or why!  He said: ‘Son don’t think war is good – it is hell on earth!  We should do anything to avoid war and sending more young men and women into it.’

Another was a paratrooper and often behind enemy lines.  That’s about all he would say except to get angry with politicians who support wars without understanding the first thing about it and then glory in the men and women going out or coming back!  Another was a pilot who ended in a POW camp and escaped on the Long March, was hidden in an abandoned house and liberated by the Allies.  None spoke about the realities of war; it was too hard but the pain, the struggle, the evil horror was clear in their eyes and being.  War is not the answer, they repeated time and again.

I read of the current problems facing veterans of recent wars, from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.  One story begins: IT WAS around midnight when Nicholas Hodge stepped into the middle of the road, lay down on the white line and placed his identity card on his chest. A passing taxi driver was the first to spot him and pulled over. The driver picked up the card on Hodge’s chest, reached for his phone and began dialling.

Soon, a police patrol arrived and two officers made their way towards to the large, powerfully built figure lying face-up on the bitumen. One of the officers recognised Hodge: a factor, he says now, that – combined with the way ACT Policing handled him that night – probably saved his life. Under the gaze of nearby diners in the trendy Canberra restaurant district of Kingston, Hodge begins to sob. “I was hoping a car would run me over,” he explains. “I just started bawling my eyes out, saying, ‘I need help, I need help’.”  Hodge was a veteran of multiple deployments with both the army and Federal Police in Afghanistan.  The story is told in the Canberra Times and outlines this veteran’s nightmare life filled with depression, loneliness and haunting ghosts of war from which he cannot escape.  It is one of countless such stories.

These veterans have many of the physical injuries but the psychological manifestations of war are growing more intense and difficult.  There is a 3x greater suicide rate amongst veterans than the rest of the community and mental health issues are becoming chronic with up to 50% of all veterans needing significant support and help of some description.  PTSD is rampant.  In some ways this has always been the case but it has been hidden and allowed to hide in the lives and minds of veterans who tried to ignore it and families who hid the pain.

Unless one has been in the place of these soldiers it is impossible to understand.  We can only listen to the stories and feel the pain in their eyes and tears.  We can also take them seriously and hear the message that echoes through the memories and stories – War IS NOT the answer!  It is hell on earth and should be avoided at all costs.  For young men and women on the ground, obeying orders and so often fulfilling the political pipedreams of national leaders, war is extremely dangerous and leaves them wounded and psychologically damaged. That is the nature of the culture of violence and the more extreme it is, the more significant the pain for these pawns of our wars.

Somehow this message is lost in the grandstanding of leaders who parade through ANZAC Day bathing in reflected glory and intoning platitudes of ignorance.  The silence that we are encouraged to embrace is the only fitting response to the horror and evil that these young men and women were exposed to, embraced in their being and courageously endured.  The silence we hold ought to embolden us to listen more deeply to the words of veterans and heed their sombre warning that war is NOT THE ANSWER!  Sending troops to wars that are not our own, with no basis in defence and lacking sanity is not honouring the memory and sacrifice of those who have fought. It is playing with people’s lives.

In remembering those who served through the theatre of war, we want lift up and celebrate particular characteristics that rise to the surface in times of deep stress, danger and need. These young men and women displayed courage, sacrifice, perseverance and persistence, loyalty, faithfulness, mateship that was really a deep, deep dependence and trust in each other through the darkest times.  These are qualities to hold up, to give thanks for and to emulate in our own lives. They are also qualities at the heart of faith and exemplified in the story central to our life as a Christian community – the death of Jesus and the response of God in the Easter story.

Our central faith story speaks of One who is so filled with belief and hope and conviction in the Reign and way of God that he sacrifices his own life for the sake of God’s way in the world, to proclaim the deepest truth of life for all people. Jesus is courageous, self-sacrificing, persevering, graciously welcoming of all people, embracing them into the community of grace as friends/mates and builds deep trust. Jesus is also absolutely non-violent and resists any effort by his followers to use sword or spear – he is a leader who understands and leads truly.

Jesus defies the world’s culture of ‘violence as the only response to violence’. He proclaims a way that is the only true way to peace. He knows full well that violence begets more violence and inevitably the little ones suffer the most. True peace is only ever born out of love. This is the hardest truth for us to grasp because everywhere we have a culture of violence influencing us until we know it alone, as the way of the world.

Yet, isn’t this the message of our diggers, young and old? Isn’t this the truth they learned in the midst of hell? Isn’t this the deep wisdom forged into their consciousness whilst being shot at, having mates gunned down in the most god-forsaken places on earth? We honour these men and women. We remember them, but we fail to heed their message and therefore we fail to truly honour their lives and sacrifice, their memory. Most people I have spoken to fought in the vain hope that their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to. What are we doing?

As a few war veterans in recent times, said to me, remember the past – those who fought, those who died, why they fought and died, how they fought and died – and work towards peace! War is not an answer.

No-one I spoke to condones war – all were united in their opposition and hatred of what war is about; the pain and suffering, the futility?

It’s hard to comprehend that not so long ago Australians were united in their opposition and hatred of what war is about; this pain and suffering, this sheer futility of loss.  But those born after WWII, what do we really know?  What do those who are making decisions for war understand?  Do they know of air raid shelters and sirens; blackened windows and blackouts; working at home to support the war effort – including the sacrifices…; waiting for word about loved ones – not knowing where they were, whether they were dead or alive…?

It is difficult for younger generations who are not related to service men and women, to understand the debt owed to those who fought for our freedom; people who sacrificed much for their relatives, friends and their country.  War is too often glamorised and glorified – especially in Hollywood portrayals!  But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, glamorous about war! It does bring out some of the best qualities in people as their lives are bound together in a struggle for freedom. They strive together towards a common goal. When the comforts and ease of life is stripped away and everything is reduced to absolute basics, truly great human qualities emerge – sacrifice of self for others, working together, trust, community and, often, faith in God (One veteran remembered lying in a trench with gunfire all around. There was himself and two mates who often joked with   him about his faith. In the trench that night they all prayed for their lives!). There is much love realised and released when people struggle under tremendous hardship.

Having said that, war is ultimately a futile exercise that brings death, destruction and suffering upon people and the earth. It is tragic and the scars are imprinted on the national psyche forever – ANZAC Day is a sacred day in Australia, but one that often misses the point – in honouring the service men and women doesn’t hear their cries for peace!  As a result of the ending of WWII we have grown up in a very different world – one in which we have the capacity to destroy everything in a few minutes. The rules have changed in war and we must remember!

This day ought to be about peace. For if there is any message that we must hear from those who have served our nation in war, it is to work for peace!! In the place of such deeply felt hatred that exists in war there must be peace! The world, the human race, the earth itself, cannot bear much more war. We must work for peace.

One person told me of meeting a German some years after the war – they were both on opposing sides and possibly shooting at each other. They were together on a trip and it was difficult but they were both men, with families – not very different. He looked back and thought of how they had to hate each other in order to do what they had to do. People were fighting people who were, often, very much like them. He said: ‘People experience such hatred – how can it be?’

This week’s reading, Psalm 23, is a psalm that speaks of God as our shepherd, the One who leads, guides, nurtures and sustains us through the good, the hard and the realities of life.  It invites another way of living and believing – the way of God that contrasts with the ways of the world leaders who use power through weapons of violence and warfare.  This psalm invites us to ponder what we really need and what really offers us peace, life, hope and contentment.  It affirms, from the voice of a king of Israel, that God is the one who brings contentment, meaning and the true way of life for us.  It is a way of peace!  There must be peace; we must strive for peace! Peace that is not just the absence of war but wholeness in human relationships. This includes justice – looking after the poor, sick, weak and our children. It is wholeness in our relationship with the earth – living peacefully with the earth is not to abuse and destroy the planet needlessly.  It means standing up against those things and people which devalue human life and promote the causes of separatism, elitism, racism, sexism, classism… It means to stand up against injustice, whether it be in systems (political, church, business…) or people (one another, politicians, business leaders…).

In Australia the relationship with aboriginal people must be dealt with honestly, once and for all – there must be recognition of the past and a commitment to move forward together with love and seeking true peace!

Today also means living peacefully with one another, listening to another and respecting them as a human. For it is in our small conflicts that the roots of war and fighting begin.
Peace does not lie in power over another or intimidation; it lies in vulnerability and love – this is the simple message of a Galilean carpenter/storyteller who turned the world on its head. If you want to follow Jesus, then walk the way of peace and love!

By geoffstevenson

The Politics of Resurrection

I first understood what a polarising lens was all about when I bought one for my old camera.  It allowed me to see very clearly into water and stop the glare and reflection.  A polarising lens (common in sun glasses) only allows light waves of one direction to enter the lens.  Polarising lenses are now being used for 3D movies by allowing light in one direction into one eye and light from a different direction into the other eye, such that each eye sees a slightly different image taken from a slightly different angle that imitates how the eyes see.  Too technical – where am I going?  Hang in there!

I want to suggest that Easter, more particularly resurrection, is a lens through which we need to read the Biblical stories, our own lives and the life of the world.  It is a lens that is enlivening and hope-filled rather than pessimistic and hopeless, as much of our perspective tends to be.  We watch the news, listen to leaders (political, economic and even religious) and feel overwhelmed by the crises and predictability of life in our world.

We stand between Good Friday’s darkness and Easter Day’s light and hope.  We are caught in the place of grief and confusion, anger and frustration until it wears us out and we give in.  How many people actually believe anything can or will change?  How many have simply given up on politics, religion or anything else?  How many have let go and followed the seductive addictions that enable escape and release from the interminable living that slides into meaningless oblivion?

Of course there are those who are too busy to allow the state of the world or meaningless existence to touch their being.  They rush on through work that is relentless, promising so much if only they can reach the hallowed goal, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – it is there, if only…  The day surely comes when they look back and wonder how life has passed them by.  Then they sink into the wretchedness of despair, rolling in money, they have no time.  If this sounds desperate and frightfully negative and hopeless, hang in there.  I am only reciting what I see and hear from so many people.

In the midst of this ordinary life where change or transformation seems a hollow promise where politicians, economists or even preachers offer a bored and struggling populace little of substance, we hear a story that is impossible, naïve and insane.  It comes every year and most people shut it out with a shake of the head.  It is the story, or set of stories, that surround the experience of the early church, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  The profound and mysterious elements of the story confound common sense or scientific probing.  We know these things don’t happen and the stories are puzzling, strange and don’t always make sense.

I want to suggest that this resurrection is a lens through which may perceive life from a new and different perspective that changes everything.  In fact this is exactly what Jesus does in the story we read this week, Luke 24: 36-48 (the full story begins at verse13).  Jesus invites the disciples to hear the story of the God’s people from a different perspective that changes its meaning and imbues it with life.  He says elsewhere that God is the God of the living, not the dead but we think in terms of death not life.  It is said that Erich Fromm, a well-known psychologist and one who loved life, on his death said to his friend, “Bob, why do people prefer necrophilia to biophilia?” Why do people, the human race, prefer the love of death to the love of life? Bombs to celebrations? War and conflict to community and peace?   It is a great question as so much of our world is geared towards pessimism, violence, hatred and deathliness.  Even life in the developed world is tedious boredom for many as their lives slip by watching others live life on TV.

The stories of resurrection are political and speak into the hopelessness of the human condition, the ‘necrophilia’ of which Erich Fromm speaks.  They speak into the questions and doubts and fears we all encounter when we stop long enough to sit with the realities of our lives.  The resurrection stories provide a key to reading the stories of the Bible, of the reality of God in human life.  They help us understand what the ancients were trying to say then and now.  When we read life through the ‘lens of resurrection’ we see new things as it filters our seeing and allows us to live with wonder and joy, to believe in hope and to be energised to be the change we want to see in the world.

The political nature of resurrection is that it challenges the powers of the world that would seek to kill and destroy love and peace.  The powers and forces that killed Jesus and have silenced so many who have walked in his way are still at large.  They control much of the media, the stories, the ‘wisdom’ and would have us believe a truth that is less than real.  The powers are content with the world as it is – the economy and the taxation system, the differences between rich and poor, the laws, the party political priorities – the way things are.  Resurrection challenges the rest of us to see something different and to begin to believe that there is another way, a way that is more life-giving, life-affirming and hopeful that anything the powers-that-be would offer.

Resurrection challenges and questions the priorities we feel and know all around us.  Why are we sending more soldiers to a war that is not our own and in which we have no clues and have achieved little more than suffering and pain all round?  Why does our nation invest so heavily in the futility of defence systems whilst the health and education systems flounder?  Why do we believe those who commit crimes should be condemned forever – after all it is called the ‘correctional facility’?  Why do we believe that mistrust and aggression are the right ways to deal with refugees?  Why do we believe that aggressive consumption, greed and environmental degradation are good for us when they continue to bring more isolation, loneliness, fear and anxiety, as well as pain?

Resurrection says something different.  It invites us to believe in people, in one another and to recognise that relationships are the basic currency of life.  It helps us embrace the wonders of the earth and to read the creation stories as our story, one that is about the goodness of God’s creation and the interdependence of all parts of creation.  It helps us understand the flood story as a hopeful story reminding us that even from a remnant life can be renewed – when everything fails, there is still hope!  God is the God of the living and fills the world with beauty and wonder if only our eyes will be opened.  No matter what the world does or says, the Living God indwells us and fills us with life and love.  In the resurrection story there is the constant gift of peace and the challenge to live peacefully before the world, with love and grace.

By geoffstevenson

Peace Be With You – But What Peace?

I walked past a house the other day, a couple of different houses really (well there many houses but a couple of particular houses I noticed!).  The reason I noticed them was that they were somewhat large and new and surrounded by iron and stone fences.  One had a relatively low fence of iron bars that allowed me to see into the yard and admire the house.  Never-the-less it was sufficiently high to prevent anyone entering the yard.  It had one of those electric gates and the structure ran right across the front of the house.  The other house is a very large house around the corner from us.  It has high walls of brick and concrete and iron mesh with spikes in top.  You cannot see in, let alone get in.  There is an intercom and electric gate at the front and a dog that roams the yard, a big angry looking dog.

I wondered why these homes in suburbia have such solid structures that refuse entry to anyone coming into the yard and knock on the front door.  Why this absolute obsession with security?  Why hide behind this rigid, solid structure?  I thought of these houses when I read this week’s Bible reading (John 20:19-31) where it says the disciples were hidden in a locked room out of fear.  They were locked away from the world behind solid doors, afraid that those who killed Jesus would come for them.  I wonder what the families behind these locked houses are hiding from or afraid of?  Perhaps it is theft?  Or violence?  Or…?

It’s interesting how we hide ourselves behind structures, whether solid, rigid, physical structures or metaphorical structures – rules, laws, ideologies…  We hide ourselves behind facades lest others see something of who we are, vulnerable people with strengths and failures.  We bleed, we hurt, we have moments of insanity and anxiety, we are physically weak or feeling ill or hurting inside over insults or comments taken to heart.  We are people who grieve and feel helpless, powerless or even useless before the big world of successful, beautiful people so much greater than our little selves…  Ah the psychology that convolutes itself around us, distorting our orientation and leaving us vulnerable or weak – and we hide!

Our small black dog often hides himself in places where he can see out but feels safe from the big world – under tables or chairs, under the bed or hidden in a rug.  This is especially prevalent when a storm arrives and he shakes with his fear.  We hide ourselves from things we can’t deal with or cope with or understand.  We hide ourselves from information and realities that seem too hard or scary – climate change and refugees are two head-in-the-sand issues Australians hide from and allow the insanity to go on.

The disciples were afraid, really afraid and the burly fishermen locked themselves away from the world.  There were others with them, of course, hidden in grieving fear behind doors that locked tight and held fast.  The mystery of the story is that Jesus came into their midst.  It doesn’t say he knocked and tried to convince them to open up – would they have?  He came and stood in their midst and offered them peace.  He revealed himself through vulnerability – scars and wounds – that they recognised or identified with.  He offered peace into this room of grief and fear.  He confronted the honest doubt of Thomas who didn’t, couldn’t, fathom this mysterious presence and needed to see, hear, touch in order to believe and grasp.  This mysterious presence of the Risen Christ, the Spirit of God in and through and around these disciples in a palpable expression of Love that transcended death and grave and powers of Empire, brought peace.

The next story in John’s book is about fishermen on the lake, returned to normal life that was no longer normal.  They left the fear-filled room and the city of pain and returned to the back blocks of Galilee and engaged in life – a new life filled with this Presence, the Risen-Christ Presence of God.  This Presence infused itself into their being, their living, their family and communal life.  This Risen-Christ Presence was there to not only quell fear but fill them with risk-taking courage.  The early church was built on the faith that Jesus was in them, around them, through them, alive and not dead!

I read an interesting fact this morning.  It took the church 1000 years before the crucifixion, the death of Jesus, became prominent in art and the depiction of Christianity.  The first 1000 years before we became infatuated with death, the images of Jesus were about life and love.  Jesus was a presence of life in the life of people that imbued them with hope, courage, subversive and countercultural zeal and love.  Jesus was alive, not dead but the Empire swallowed the Church and killed Jesus and his movement again by enveloping it with fear and violence and wealth.  Credal faith arose to replace the living faith of active love and activity built on Jesus’ thirst for justice and peace for all people in the Way of God.  The church hid itself behind the power of Empire, the control of creeds, the order of rules and we relaxed because it felt safe behind these solid walls!

BUT, the Risen Christ always comes into locked rooms and unsettles our security with outrageous love and insane mutterings that question the ways of life and the world and the culture that dominates us.  The Risen Christ enters the closed minds and nibbles away at our facades – we can hide from the world but God always sees the face behind the face, the hiddenness we protect and value above all else.  Through locked doors and solid walls, the Risen Christ comes and shatters our hidden peace by giving us the peace of God that won’t settle for personal security and egoistic longings when the world is filled with oppressive injustice and violence.

Do you get it?  This ‘Prince of Peace’ who offers us peace sends us to the wolves, vulnerable and weak to love them and expose their violence and ignorance and offer them peace!  This ‘peace’ is one that transforms us and distorts our distorted views and naïve understanding to see a new world where God is present in a Risen Christ who comes and goes when we least expect it, unsettling us and sending us weak and afraid into the very world we fear!!??!  BUT, we go with this strange ‘peace that passes all understanding’ that melts the raging hatred and violence of some (many? But not all!) and identifies the vulnerability in the other and offers friendship and relationship, reconciled and freeing.  It builds a community of trust that breaks down the fences and barriers that separate us from the world and lives fully, lovingly and hopefully before this world that yearns for life and freedom and hope – but fears what it might mean.  This is indeed a risky adventuresome path that will not endure barriers of any kind – anything that bars love is brought down in joyous abandon and reckless faith.  Peace be with you!

By geoffstevenson

Easter: A New Song for a Troubled World!

This morning ABC talk back radio is discussing the hopeful, positive things people look forward to doing over the holidays – the Easter long weekend beckons and it is school holidays.  Many are savouring the Aussie tradition of the long weekend escape or an annual vacation.  Others are preparing for family gatherings, the Show, sport, movies, trips into the city or country or getting a few odd jobs done around the home.  Some are in a lather over the promise of chocolate.  All are good things that may bring some joy and positivity to life and relationships or some renewal or revitalisation.

I listen to the comments yet fail to be enthused.  The holiday mindset is about escape, about getting away from the ordinary, perhaps tedious elements of daily ‘living’.  We escape into activities or holidays and remove ourselves from the ordinariness of life that we embrace as normal, as the only option.  Why did so many of us feel so excluded and uninterested in the recent State Election?  Did we think that nothing would change, despite these two blokes seeming decent men – because they don’t have the power or capacity?  Do we feel the deep dismay that politics is weak and there are powers so much more persistent and powerful at work to keep things as they are?  We, the ordinary people, feel lost in the complex, confusing maze of political and economic processes that leave us little more than pawns in someone else’s game of chess.

The processes of fear that drive our community and lead us into violent confrontation with that which is different, vulnerable, in need of compassion or confuses us, are forceful and powerful – they grow within as we give into their insecurity and offensive rejection of that which is different or seems scary.  Just last week I was walking through South Windsor looking for the home of one of the congregation members.  I was lost (I later discovered there were four streets with the same name).  Two blokes came swaggering out of the pub and walked towards me, all tattooed, tattered clothes and rough looking – the kind you avoid on the streets, or so I’m led to believe.  I must have looked confused or lost or something but as they drew near one asked. ‘Hey mate, you lost?  Can we help?’  He gave me the directions I needed, all smiles and generosity.  I thanked him, feeling confused and pleased and… I don’t know.  I was supposed to be wary of these blokes who had good hearts and were helpful but for the life of me I can’t think why?  Isn’t that the story?  We alienate ourselves from one another feeling afraid because ‘someone somewhere’ has told us to – refugees, aboriginals, immigrants, homosexuals, the poor, single parents, soccer fanatics, ‘Westies’, young people, black (non-white) people, those who play loud, modern music and so the list goes on.  We are alienated, afraid and confused and the leadership of this fine nation seems to like it that way – perhaps they are scared as well.

We are alienated from the earth that supplies our food and resources, frantically digging up everything we can to feed the ‘economy’ and make a buck for someone overseas.  We often complain about work but don’t dare do something we really like because we can’t risk the lifestyle to which we are addicted, even if we aren’t completely sure our lives are really that great!!??  We feel tired all the time from fulfilling the expectations upon us and trying to keep up the pretence that all is well, we’re happy, content and feel the serenity (‘Ah the serenity!’).

It’s funny really; most people exist in an endless cycle of life that has moments of joy and lots of tedium.  We are drawn into a belief system that keeps the boredom alive and drives us harder to achieve satisfaction that quickly dissipates before new levels of expectation and hopeful possibility.  It’s a bit like an addict who gradually needs more of the substance to get the effect – an endless spiralling cycle into oblivion.  Withdrawal and satisfaction become the extremes of the cycle, with meaninglessness in between.  So we have our escapes, our release, our window of stepping out of the system for a day or two, recharge a little and return to the way of living we’ve been squeezed into and depend upon.  Does this sound a bit extreme?  Like someone else’s life?  Am I pushing the envelope a bit?  I’m not too sure I am because I’ve listened to too many people and I’ve lost count of those who don’t feel good, really good about what is happening and what they’re doing and how the world is, or the church or politics or the earth or…

So here we are at Easter, a Holy Day.  Get it Holy Day not holiday.  Is there a difference?  Well I think there is because Easter offers a way into a countercultural, even subversive way of living and being.  The story leads us deeper into ourselves, our being and further into God and reconciliation with the Divine within us and around us and in our neighbour – and the earth!  Easter is a journey with this Jesus in whom is the deep and profound revelation of God.  Jesus walks with gusto, courage and subversive faith into a confrontation with the powers of the world – for him, Rome, Emperor, Jewish leaders, the Temple Cult…  He confronted the life that everybody else was squeezed into, pushed into believing and becoming – puppets in the hands of powers and principalities that had no clue.  These powers controlled life and people and kept everyone ignorant and afraid, alienated and compliant.  Jesus knew the deeper way of life that found its genesis in God and God’s love-infused intention for all creation.  This love-bound way is justice personified, not just fairness or equality but justice at its very heart and for all the earth.

Easter is a path to walk, to venture down, a story to enter because it is the gate, the key, the space in life that leads to transformation and peace within our being.  We know this story and have glimpsed the serenity at the heart of Jesus’ way.  We have glimpsed this in moments of delight in stories that move us and challenge us, in the courage of subversive radicals and prophetic voices that rise profoundly against the status quo.  We have glimpsed it in moments when our defences are down and we are open for the briefest time and it gets in, this contagion of love and compassion, of peace and joy.  Like a virus that attacks us when we are stressed, tired and run down, the contagion of love rattles our bones when we least expect it and we think we see something else that is good.  But it disappears as we re-engage our defensive ways and trust the tedious story of never-ending ordinariness and believe the voices that would have us cower before their power and keep us compliant, whinging perhaps, but compliant.

This is Easter and if you can’t let your defences down at Easter, to listen to the hopeless, helpless story once again of a man rushing forcefully and head first into confrontation with powers and principalities – the highest powers of the world! – you never will.  He challenges Caesar in a display of mocking rejection of Caesar’s power and authority by waltzing into Jerusalem on a donkey and proclaiming the way of God, whilst Caesar’s man on the ground, Pilate, displays power and might and violent strength.  He enters the Temple and tears it apart to protest the manner in which it has become a tool of oppression and injustice in the hands of religious authorities who are puppets of Caesar and peddling injustice.  He has abused the powers, rejected their authority, staked a claim for another Kingdom, another Reign, another ruler – one of justice for all people, of love, gracious and compassionate.  This is an alternative that we glimpse in the very best of human enterprise and compassion – the two blokes I met on the street.  It is the power that imbues the 12-step programs and results in transformative power and transformed lives through the vulnerable acceptance of who we are and what we need – that the status quo isn’t working and life isn’t too grand.  It is the story we see and hear in every hoped filled movie or story or life where courage overcomes the reality of the present that constrains, restricts, corrupts, distorts or oppresses human life.  It is the song we sing in the deepest recesses of our being, the deep place where yearning and longing cry out in guttural groans too deep for words and understood only in the Spirit of Divine love and grace.  It is in the desperate longing and searching cry of lost, lonely and fearful people fed up with the lot they have been served up and rising up against the processes, the forces, the powers that hold them enslaved and subservient.  They have nothing to lose and all to gain and the anger that fuels their desperate raging scares and angers those who have power who lash out in retaliatory violence.

This is Jesus’ story – a man in whom God’s deep reality infused his being and drove him on in a vision grand of a world, just and caring, of compassionate community and peace-filled existence for all.  He walked in courage and faith to confront the powers, to proclaim a new way, a new peace and the love of God.  The powers rose, they organised, they tried and killed this innocent voice of love!  Isn’t that the story – kill the innocent voice of love that threatens the status quo?  Martin Luther King Jr.  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  Joan of Arc, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and countless others, big and small.  The voice of God rings out in these human lives to challenge the powers that be and the assumptions that undergird their enterprise of domination and violent maintenance of the status quo.

Jesus engaged these powers, pushing them, exposing them, challenging them and proclaiming a Realm, a Reign for all people, a Reign of peace, justice, love and gracious acceptance and belonging.  For those who believed they were of little consequence, worthless, lowly and insignificant, this Reign welcomes them as children of God!  For those who have little and struggle in life, this Reign promises a community that will liberate their poverty and enable them to share in the abundant generosity of God.  For those who have too much and suffer the stress, the ulcers and cardio-vascular disease rampant amongst the first world wealthy elites and their alienated, seductive lifestyles there is the promise of relief and release – give it up and follow Jesus and you will live more deeply than you ever imagined.  This is a transformed, transformative life that delivers us from addictive escape and angst filled uncertainty fearing those who are different and courageously engaging in risky new endeavours in the Kingdom of Love.

This week of struggle, pain and resistance culminates in a violent death, a lonely, horrific death on a hill beyond the city.  This One who proclaimed love and power that contrasted with the powers of the world succumbed to these powers and died.  In his struggle he cried out to God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  These words echo the hollow feelings of a world lost and angry, hurting and lonely – our words in those moments of grief and wretched helplessness.  Good Friday is this day that embraces the fullness of the human condition at its worst.  The temptation is to be locked into this day, to be held there in painful surrender to the ways of the world and the alienated, powerlessness we feel and know.

But, in the words of Tony Campolo, ‘Today’s Friday but Sunday is Coming!’  Sunday is coming, the day of mystery and wonder, of resurrected life!  This is a politically confronting reality.  The powers defeated Jesus, the way of God and dispensed with him – dead and gone.  Love had a way that transcended life and time and death and liberated this one from the forces and powers and lifted him to a new living – different in form and manner but mysteriously and wondrously alive.  The disciples felt him, knew him in their being.  Jesus was dead but lived – a theologically and politically radical action that confronted the world’s powers in all their brutal reality.  You cannot defeat Love and the way of God transcends your violent hatred and lust for power.  Whatever they do, nothing can separate us from God!  Whatever happens we are embraced into the radical Love that is beyond time, space or any power!

The politics of this story are generally lost in feel-good self-obsessed ramblings.  This story, this reality confronts the world and its powers, its rhetoric and the belief systems we all bow before and hold in our culturally formed beings.  The truth is somewhere else – it is is this Reign that Jesus lived, proclaimed and invites us into.  This way of Jesus is life that transcends and transforms; it is hope and peace and serenity!  It is life!

By geoffstevenson