Resurrection Sunday – I was only thinking earlier that it was no ordinary Sunday for those women who were approaching the tomb of their savior. Their master, their Lord was gone, possibly all of their hopes for a future, as well. How could this possibly have happened? I can’t imagine the desolation and hopelessness that those women must have been battling as they made their way to the tomb that morning.
The Rev. Dr. Keith Garner is the CEO of the Wesley Mission in Sydney, who makes it his life calling to work and share life with people who are living through the most hopeless and lonely times of their lives. Keith, happy Easter. Thank you for joining us.
Is Christianity unique in our hope being found in a leader who was risen from the grave?
Keith: Well, Jesus was of course raised by the Father. And when He was raised by the Father, it was certainly not to be expected, there’s no way in which those women or the disciples come to discipline their minds. It certainly wasn’t something that they felt, “This is certainly going to happen.” And I think that’s very important because it gives us the power of Easter, I think. And it certainly speaks against everything that anybody in a situation like that might felt.
It must have been just an all-consuming desolation and hopelessness?
Keith: Yeah, that hopelessness, and with so many reasons. But I think that when you bank your life on someone, you’ve given yourself, you’ve paid the cost to some extent of leaving whatever was your life before, and you’ve followed somebody, and therefore, it’s all go wrong, I think it’s very hard for us to imagine what that must have been like.
Keith, the grief compounded by virtue of the fact those women, the disciples, Jesus’ family, kind of had any idea He was a martyr?
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Keith: Well, we’ve been raising the question, it was the mission all week, what Jesus really is. And we’ve been using words, very powerful words really, martyr is one word. But I think, in the end, He’s more than a martyr. He’s ultimately the Messiah, the one who is promised, the one who came to make that difference to the world. And I think that when that happened, they couldn’t possibly be imagining that those events were going to have the impact on the world, that ultimately they did. In fact, as we know, they fled into the darkness, and it was only really after Easter that they really started to pull their lives together, meeting behind closed doors at first.
Yes, the loss of Christ in the lives of the disciples, so they all go underground, fearing for their own lives in part, but dealing with their own loss, as well.
Keith: I’m sure. And I think that that really is really reinforced and strengthened when we start to think about Peter, the one who was perhaps the leader of the pack, the one who was there leading the rest of them, who goes and denies that he even knew the man.
Keith, if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, then we have a problem at the heart of Christianity, but those who don’t share our faith are looking for proofs. Where do we go as believers to provide those proofs?
Keith: I think I react a little bit to the word proof, only because of the way that it’s often used in the world around us. I think we’ve got a reason, as Scripture tells us, of the hope that’s within us. We’ve got to be prepared to do that. And that’s an apology, in the proper sense of that word, making a reason case out for Christianity. But if by proof we mean something that’s going to persuade somebody against everything else, and something they’re going to believe because they’ve been given a set of propositions, or they’ve been pointed in a certain direction, I think the search for proof has some futility about it.
But the proof is not so much in looking at events but the fact that there is a church, the fact that the Christian community developed. This didn’t just happen from anywhere. It happened from certain things, and it happened from those events that we know in Scripture as Jesus Christ being raised from the dead. If it were not true, surely the opposite of the proof is there’d be those people who would have all these years and we’ve now got 2000 years of history behind us, shown as where He is. And He is not to be found.
This Easter, you and the team, Keith, at Wesley Mission, are asking us to consider overtly the power of the resurrection and its relevance in 21st-century Australia. Start that conversation for us. How is it important today in this country?
Keith: I think it’s a very important conversation to have in Australia, not least of all because our country, of course, is unique among major countries in the world in that we were never missioned, we were never evangelized. We were originally a chaplaincy. And that makes it very difficult because our history is not of some people coming in and pointing the way to Christ. We’ve had to find the Christianity that’s developed within this land in a very different kind of way than many countries. And I think that really the question is on the table for us to consider today, what is Christianity to Australia?
It has had a significant impact upon many people, but we have many people talking about this is a secular country, we haven’t the right to do this, we haven’t the right to do that. So I think we have to be very, very careful in thinking, how do we present this Christian gospel? It is of course, through the transformed lives of people. It is through a community that is very real. But we recognize that facts and proofs are not really the way people think about life today. And that really makes Christianity a very difficult thing if it’s not presented alongside the reality of the word and deed of our lives.
Keith, if we return to those women approaching the tomb of Jesus Christ, and that one man they had placed all of their hopes and dreams, and now he lay dead, and they were there to prepare his body. Their grief, their loss, their isolation must have been all-encompassing. What’s the message of Easter to people living through grief, and isolation, and loneliness?
Keith: For Wesley Mission, and for many agencies like us, the Christian faith is at the heart of everything we do. Much of our work is with the marginalized, the poor, those people that are often ignored. And the great thing for me is this, that the Christian faith speaks into our hopelessness and gives us a hope, speaks into our emptiness and gives us a purpose. That, for me, makes what we do have about it something that is very, very meaningful towards people. We really do believe in that. And just in the same way that I have found Christ in my own life, and many of us have, we can commend that not just with a series of words, not just with an experience, but we can see it translated into real action into people’s lives, and people really do need hope today.
There’s a real opportunity that comes with Easter where people invariably end up talking about Jesus, “Did He live? Did He Rise again? Is He real?” What’s your advice to people who are given that opportunity to strike up a conversation about their faith, Keith?
Keith: Whenever we talk about the Christian faith, it’s very important that we’re prepared to speak of it from what we know in our own personal experience, not to push an experience at somebody, but to say, “This is what we believe, and this is why. It has made this difference to my life.” And in the same way that those early disciples spread across the world telling that news, so we in our own way, can tell that story. I think we must do it without aggression, but with gentleness, and be ready to commend Jesus Christ to other people. It is the great moment, Easter.
I know Christmas is sometimes a higher-profile event. But Easter hasn’t really got messed about it quite the same way that Christmas has, in people’s perceptions. I know there’s an Easter Bunny, but nobody really believes in the Bunny, and I’m somehow upsetting anybody by saying that. The reality is, for me, it still has about it something that makes people think there’s something special about this time of the year, and that it is something to do with the Christian faith. It is something…and I think we’ve got to be prepared to say something.