Easter reflections from Josh Grear, our Brixton Team Leader:
"What is the central message of Easter? It sometimes feels like it is Christ’s death that is the emphasis of the Easter period, and indeed cultural life of the church more generally. I have been reflecting on Easter and its theological significance for quite some time. It seems relevant to consider some of those reflections in the light of the easter period and my work with CHIPS as a peacemaker.
In my own personal experience, the message is “Christ died for you” rather than “Christ lived and was resurrected for us”. The death of Christ is loudly proclaimed on the streets of South London with megaphones announcing promises of heaven or hell, in the comfort of middle-class churches with cool contemporary sung worship, in tracts shared on busses, heartfelt youth talks,
The cross, although important, is given meaning by the resurrection. A sermon I once heard made the point that Good Friday is only ‘good’ because of the resurrection. It is in love and life that God overcomes the power of Death. Jesus died on the cross because of the way he lived. He lived as a peacemaker that subverted the norms of the world around him, he challenged the might of Rome and the dominance of the religious ruling elite. But worst of all he did this without mirroring their violence and domination back to them. He threw off the expectations of a military Messiah that would throw off the chains of their Roman oppressor and revealed a way of living and being that challenged not only the power of Rome, but the internal aspects of the Jewish community too.
The truth of Christ’s life, his way of being, led to him being put to death on the cross. Yet, when we only pay lip service to the resurrection, when we fail to make it a theological priority easter, and the Christian story and identity loses some of its meaning. Without the resurrection Good Friday is not at all good, it is just another day that another oppressed person in the roman empire is executed for defiance. The truth of Christ’s life is vindicated by the resurrection. It is in the incarnation, life, and resurrection that we have hope and the promise of God’s peaceable kingdom. Rome, the most powerful empire in the day of Jesus, used the fullest extent of their power - the power of death - to attempt to reinforce their ‘truths’ of the pax romana and the unassailable power and domination of Roman might. The Resurrection reveals Roman power as a sham and proudly declares the promise of God’s Kingdom through the way, truth, and light of Christ.
The fixation on the cross, to the neglect of the resurrection and other aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, appears to me as a reflection of wider society. We are culturally concerned with punishment, punitive justice, ‘getting what you deserve’. These attitudes are all around us; they are in our news headlines, our politics, and the underlying assumptions which build the structures of our societal relations.
As well as being in the socio-cultural imagination, the images of punishment, retribution, revenge, etc are also present in the conversations that the CHIPS team have on a regular basis with people in Brixton. We listen and speak with young people who use the currency of strength,domination, retribution, and revenge, as well as with parents who would rather their children carry a knife than be vulnerable to attack. Ours is a culture that lives in fear of the pain, brokenness, and death on the cross. Yet, it is in the resurrection that these fears are defeated and the vision of God’s world is found.
It strikes me as interesting and, to be quite frank, odd that we as a church seem to fixate on the crucifixion of Christ more than the resurrection.
Of course discussion of the crucifixion is more prevalent around Easter - that makes perfect sense. However, the question occurred to me as a matter of where we as a church place the emphasis on the Easter story. As where we place the emphasis has great significance to our theology and the way in which we live our lives.
This is not purely an Easter phenomenon either - the story of the Cross is an ever present pervasive part of the Christian story and identity - and not without reason. It is obviously an important part of our theology.
However, we should focus ourselves on the resurrection narrative; the story of life overcoming death, of hope that alleviates fears, of light that shines in the darkness. The gospels contain fantastic stories of Jesus’ actions and life; these are the stories and lessons that reveal God’s character and his promise. It is in these stories that we learn how to live as peacemakers, and in the resurrection God reveals, reassures, and promises that his way of the resurrection - the way of love, life, creativity, relationship, forgiveness, and hope - will overcome all else, including fear and death. When we focus on the resurrection rather than the cross, we move beyond the emphasis of punishment and retribution, and focus ourselves on the vindication of the way of Christ. Jesus’ life embodies so much of our peacemaking practices, he is the incarnational God, an avid listener, learner, he asks challenging questions, spends time with broken and oppressed as well as the oppressors, and he beares the enmity of the religious elite.
These disciplines are at the heart of CHIPS’ peacemaking practices, and we continue to focus ourselves on the truth and promise of God’s way of being in the world, looking to join in with his ongoing creation of his kingdom. The resurrection enables us to see beyond the power of death to the true power of God’s relational love and life giving creativity.
It is this hope, this way of being that we as a Christian community believe that God is calling us as peacemakers. It gives us the courage and the determination to participate with God’s kingdom that the resurrection demonstrates and promises."
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