Crosslight invited three members of the synod’s community across Victoria and Tasmania to share what Easter means to them.
THE FOOLISHNESS OF THE CROSS
One of the things I value about this time of year in Launceston is the way the Uniting Church “does” Easter together. In Holy Week and across the Easter weekend there is a spirit of collaboration and shared experience that I find very engaging, and often profound.
In recent years each night in Holy Week has included an act of worship. These range from the sombre beauty of Tenebrae (the “service of shadows”) to “Messy Maundy”, and embrace both traditional and contemporary expressions of worship and reflection on the gospel stories.
Each night is also held in a different church centre. Good Friday is a combined act of remembrance. The congregations then worship in their own centres on Easter Day, with unifying activities such as common liturgy, and our Easter candles of brokenness and new life. UCA people are also involved in the Launceston Palm Sunday Justice Walk and Easter Festival.
Several weeks ago the ministers of Launceston North Parish, South Esk Parish, and Pilgrim Congregation met to plan our worship events: an enjoyable and productive time that left me thinking we’d made a good start, and didn’t need to panic about this year’s Holy Week.
What I remember most from the meeting though was a colleague’s comment that Easter Day this year is on April Fool’s Day. I’d noticed this but hadn’t gone any further than thinking “that could be interesting”. My colleague, however, had begun to do some thinking about ‘the foolishness of the cross’.
At the time of writing this reflection, we’re not yet at Easter, so I don’t know where this might lead us in terms of a worship theme. But it certainly has me thinking once more about the striking contrast between the way of GOD glimpsed in Jesus, and the way of ‘Empire’: be it Rome, Washington, Damascus, Canberra, or wherever.
In his wonderful book The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr puts it like this:
“On a cross, we find this man who has given his whole life to heal suffering become a victim of suffering himself. Instead of being a torturer, a murderer, a tyrant, or an oppressor, Jesus shares in the victimisation of humanity: and it’s here that even Jesus experiences his own resurrection. He neither plays the victim nor creates victims. This lays the third path of redemptive suffering before history and eternity. Jesus himself dies and is reborn in this transformative space.” (SPCK, 2016)
Jesus died standing up to the religious, civil, and military empire of his day, because that’s where he saw his calling (Luke 4:16-21, echoing Isaiah 61). He took all the brutality thrown at him, and responded with grace and compassion (“Son, here is your mother”, “Father, forgive them…”), and with faith: “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”
His death, I believe, was the logical conclusion of a life which refused to be silenced about the love and compassion of GOD for all people. It is a love and life which rattled the cages of power and challenged the way of “That’s just how it is, and how we like it”. A life and death of sacrificial self-giving in GOD’s name.
And in resurrection, I believe GOD said a resounding “YES” to that life, that love, that compassion, and that way. No doubt foolish according to the standards and values of ‘empire’, but profoundly important for people like me who want to believe that ‘empire’ isn’t all there is.
I wondered how to finish this reflection, before realising that it’s not my story to finish. Death and resurrection goes on, and so does the sacred life and love of GOD “in whom we live and move and have our being”. And I give thanks!
Rod Peppiatt lives in Launceston and loves it. He also loves being a husband and dad, and follows the way of Jesus as faithfully as he can. Rod is minister at Pilgrim Uniting Church in Launceston (pronounced lon-sess-tn).
WHAT EASTER MEANS TO ME
When I was a younger woman, Easter was a time of awe. A time of staring intently at the cross and of straining to feel an appropriate response, of listening to the Easter stories again and again and trying earnestly to really understand them.
It was striving to feel guilty enough, or thankful enough. I don’t remember being with people really, or talking it over, or celebrating much, just forcing myself to go over again and again the pain, the weight, the thorns and the nails.
I felt small and separate and determined to be as grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice as possible and to know what it really meant.
There was such a distance between us, him on the cross and me, and this didn’t seem odd because, of course, I was a sinner. It’s only recently that I’ve realised the cross is a picture of the closest God has come to us all.
What grabs me these days is not that I caused the sufferings on the cross, but that the more I read or learn or think about these things, the more I am pressed up against the gritty, flesh-encased, blood and sweat-coated humanity of Jesus.
My humanity is fairly apparent to me. I am a very, very fallible woman, possessed of many irritating habits – hopefully a few charming ones too – and an unshakable penchant for disliking the case I have come in.
And I am a part of a tradition that has an unfortunate history of disliking the humanity of people. But Christianity’s key act is to remember again and again in thought, word and deed, the capture and wrongful imprisonment, humiliation, torture and death of a man.
That God, in the person of Jesus, walked in skin, stubbed his toe presumably, got irritated with his mates, felt lonely and was as broken as a person can be, means a great deal to me these days, a part of which is that I am never really alone.
Being a candidate equals a bunch of things, including often being tired and treating the Centre for Theology and Ministry building as if it’s a communal lounge room. And it means we’re a part of a group. We study with others and learn how to be a community, readying ourselves for our vocations amongst the body of Christ. And this is as it should be, because we are not, I am not, blessed and freed by Jesus to simply go on staring, separate and small at the cross, wondering how we stuffed up again. We are freed into a community of salvation.
We know the story doesn’t end with the cross; Sunday is coming. The resurrection event says to me and to all of us who would shrink ourselves into the spotlight of our own guilt: “you are magnificent”, and at the same time: “you are not the point of this story”.
In this strange act something has snapped and everything has changed and we no longer have to be walking towards death, or wholly consumed with how broken we are, or convinced we are the heroes in our story.
In this strange act a body was made whole, as we believe ours will be made whole, and this is a beautiful and holy and oddly now, a human thing. And in this strange act comes, not just wholeness for our aching bones and bruised hearts, but wholeness for all of us and all creation, and in this, finally, I think I know what it really means.
Carlynne is a candidate for minister of the word, currently in her exit year at Pilgrim Theological College. She comes from a few places- Brunswick UC by way of Adelaide- and is having a blast studying theology, preaching here-and-there and wandering the CTM building, wondering if she should get another coffee.
SUFFERING AND HOPE UNDER THE LIGHT OF THE OPERATING TABLE
Recently, I had the best sleep of my life during two hours of knee surgery. I lost consciousness when anaesthetic took control of my entire being. I slept with no memories, no dreams, no hopes and no physical pain at all. I woke feeling soothed and relaxed and wished this could be an ongoing reality. But instead, I realised that sometimes what feels good is not real and we can only dream of what we don’t have.
This level of peace is what we are striving to conceive in our everyday life within the light of consciousness. We are on a journey which requires the balance of both work and rest for good health. My hospital experience informed me that we cannot possibly get to that level of rest without medical assistance.
The smell of medicines in the ward generated thoughts about how medication appears to provide solutions for many problems. When you are in pain, they give you pain control tablets. When you find it hard to sleep at night, they give you sleeping pills. I wondered whether death is any different from the deep sleep experience that occurred during my operation. If so, why are we scared of death? It is our common goal as Christians to go to heaven, but at the same time we don’t want to die. Don’t we all fear death, I wondered. Is death painful?
If anaesthetic could take control of my whole being, I wondered if we expect medication to help us bypass all pain and suffering. Was there a time in your life when you went through difficult times, and asked yourself questions such as where is God? Why me? I have so much pain and God is not helping.
My surgery happened in the light of the Lent season leading up to Easter, the time to reflect on the suffering of Christ. I thought of my own journey and those whom I was called to minister to. I am privileged to say that funeral ministry has been the highlight of my placement during the last five years in the Horsham district. I was surprised to find myself conducting two to three funerals a week at times. Losing a loved one is an intense pain that it is real and no medication can take that pain away. At least, in conducting a funeral we can hope to offer something.
In the same week as my knee surgery, the lectionary offered a reading from the Gospel of Mark Chapter 8: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering… be killed, and after three days rise again.” Without complicating the message of the Gospel, it is simply about God sharing our pain and our suffering through the person of Jesus Christ. The season of Lent and Easter unfolds God’s promise that we can find comfort in the light of hope, offered through understanding that God is not denying our pain or just simply watching our suffering. This is the most imaginative hope that humanity can have; when we know we are in partnership with Christ through our gifts and graces to bring peace to our neighbours and discover hope out of grief and suffering.
I know what it’s like to lose a father, but I have no idea what it’s like to lose a child or a partner. We can come to know that we are not alone by sharing our pain with each other. There are no words that can take away the pain of death, but our calling is to struggle and wrestle together in our suffering, and to reimagine new hope beyond the walls of despair. Pain and suffering are the most real experiences that we can have but there is joy in knowing that we are not alone. Christ is with us.
Tupe Ioelu is a minister in placement in the Horsham district of western Victoria. Together with his wife and two teenage children, they have been enjoying the experience of country ministry and the welcoming community life that makes them feel part of the region.