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!