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Receiving the message of Easter involves understanding and making sense of the justice and mercy of God, writes Stuart Crosson.
Last weekend, billions of people around the globe celebrated Easter, remembering Jesus' last weekend on Earth, his death on a Roman cross and subsequent reappearing to his disciples three days later.
For some of you, that will perhaps seem foolish, but for others it will be received as very good news. I want to explore today why so many people are willing to remember and align their lives with a ''criminal'' who died 2000 years ago while others can't see what all the fuss is about.
The apostle Paul said, ''For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God''.
Depending on whether we consider Easter foolishness or powerful will largely be determined by our understanding of this message of the cross.
In another letter, Paul gave us his abbreviated shorthand version of this message as follows: ''For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.''
Recently, I sowed some grass seed and now I am waiting for the seed to emerge revealing green shoots of grass. Some might think waiting for grass to grow is boring and unexciting, rather like people who think test cricket is boring, but not so!
Currently, the seed sits in the soil waiting for the rains to come for germination to take place.
When I scattered the seed, I was reminded of a parable that Jesus taught about a farmer who scattered seed. They landed in four different environments and the results were quite different. The seed that fell on a path was eaten by birds. The seed that fell on rocky places initially grew quickly, but very soon withered. Seed falling among thorns was choked as it grew but finally that seed sown in fertile soil flourished.
Jesus likened this to the way we respond to the message of the Kingdom of God. He said that the worries of life, the deceptions of wealth, and the evil one can rob us of the understanding of what God's plan is for us. But Jesus also said that if we hear the message and understand it, our lives will be fruitful in ways which we may hardly believe right now.
Could it be that the message of Easter is not actually the issue for you; that actually what is causing you to dismiss the claims of Christ as foolish is actually something within your heart that is blocking you from hearing the truth. (or blinding you from the truth?) I know it takes great humility to acknowledge another way.
We set up our lives in such a way as to reinforce (what?) and make sense of what is going on around us. Receiving the message of Easter involves understanding and making sense of the justice and mercy of God. It also requires a step of faith (possible alternative: as the disciple Thomas would learn when absent at the time Jesus first appeared to his disciples after the resurrection).
As Anselm said more than 1000 years ago, ''I believe so that I may understand''. A friend of mine recently said to me, ''Stu, you know, if I am wrong about Christianity, it really doesn't matter. My life is a better life for believing in Jesus and aligning it with his plans revealed in the Bible. But,'' he said, ''if unbelievers are wrong, the consequences are far more serious. They face the judgement of God and eternity in hell. I know which consequences I would rather face.''
Are you willing to risk the judgement of God or would you rather embrace his love today? I urge you to look again at the message of the cross. Get along to a bible-believing church which will help you understand how a loving God has kept his promise of love and justice by sending his son to die for you. More importantly, ask him today by faith to show you how you might experience his risen power in your life right now. Let the seed of truth germinate in your life today.
- The Rev Stuart Crosson is Vicar of St Matthew's and Archdeacon of Dunedin.