As we hurtle towards another Easter long weekend, we’re going to yank on life’s handbrake for a moment, and consider the role of Easter in our lives, as an expression of both loss and hope, desolation and inspiration. And we’ll begin with the paradox of Good Friday.
Rev. Dr. Michael Jensen has served as the chaplain and assistant minister at St. Andrew’s Cathedral School, has lectured at Moore Theological College, and this Easter joins us to explore what initially must have been the death of all hope.
I was really drawn to your observation that we often sanitize the symbol of the cross, that it’s worth remembering it’s a barbaric instrument of humiliation and torture.
Michael: Absolutely, It’s a course of our familiarity. In our culture, we wear the cross around our necks, and we see crosses everywhere in our church. We forget that really, what we’re looking at is an instrument of torture and execution, and creepy, gory execution at that. And so the idea that you sort of go into your church in a nice suburb of Sydney and celebrate the death of someone in that way, should shock us perhaps more than it does at this junction between the nice world we live in, and the thing that Jesus experienced should strike us a bit more.
As the central figure of Good Friday and the Easter celebrations, why did it have to be such a horrific death?
Michael: Well, I think partly because we do need, we need to be shocked. God is sending us a message in the cross. And the message in the first instance is actually bad news, and that is that humanity is out of line with God. We’re alienated from God, we’re distant from him. And that’s not a trivial thing, it’s a very substantial thing that we see God’s son suffering on the cross. So there’s something about the depth of the problem. And so that’s what we need to grasp when we come to the cross, that there is actually a bit of bad news here about our relationship with God.
Michael, however gruesome and final the nature of crucifixion was, though, its real power lies in the promise of new relationship, doesn’t it?
Michael: Yes, absolutely. And, of course, it’s bad news, but that’s wrapped inside extraordinary good news because, at the same time, as God is showing us, the depth of the problem, just how bad we are, that when we get the son of God, when we get a human being who actually pleases God, what we do with him is we combine together and conspire to kill him. That’s the kind of people we are. And, by the same token, this was the great act of love and mercy.
This was the avenue for mercy for us. So really it comes down to that word that we love to celebrate, the word “grace”, which is talking about God’s gift to us. So we see in Jesus, God making a way back for us to be with Him. So He’s overcoming that distance that we have with God, through the death of His son.
At the heart of the Good Friday story is sacrifice, which is a really biblical idea. What does sacrifice look like in 21st-century Australia?
Michael: In 21st-century Western culture, we don’t do a lot of sacrificing. But most cultures in the world have actually shed blood, have sacrificed animals, or even sometimes human beings, in order to try and placate the divinity. So the Greeks did it, the Aztecs famously, of course, sacrificed human beings in their pyramids. And what people are trying to do, of course, is make, is kind of establish some kind of peace with God from the human side. What Christianity proclaims, or the Bible proclaims is actually that there is a need for sacrifice because of that distance between us and God, because human beings are unholy and need to encounter a holy God, but that it’s God that makes the sacrifice.
There’s this wonderful poem by the poet, Les Murray, who is a good Aussie poet, and he says, “The true god gives his flesh and blood.” I just love that line. And then the second line is, “Idols demand yours off you.” That sums up the difference really. That idols, false gods, will demand… calls us to worship them, whereas in Christianity, what we find is God pays the price so that we can worship him.
Which when we come to Easter is a bit of a bolt from the blue. In a world that’s all about us paying the bills, us doing the heavy-lifting, I think sometimes it’s hard for us to make the space to say, “Hang on.” There was a moment in time, that still continues to be relevant today, where it’s not actually about us doing any of the work.
Michael: Absolutely, and two of the hardest words I think, for Western human beings to say, “I can’t.” But when it comes to God, we can’t, but God can. I think our whole education system, our whole economy is built on the basis of, ‘I can. I can do. This is what I can achieve.’ And we know who the winners and losers are in society. They’re the people who are the high-achievers and the high-flyers. We know who they are.
They definitely can. They make the big sacrifices, and they earn the rewards. But there are those who fail dismally, and we know who they are. But in the Christian faith of course that’s entirely turned on its head, the first, the last, the last, the first, as Jesus said. In fact it’s God who does the sacrificing of himself. And we have to receive and take the humility that’s very unfamiliar to us, culturally.
So we call the Friday before the Easter weekend ‘Good Friday’. What’s good about it in 2016?
Michael: Well Dwayne, it is the best day of the year. It’s spectacularly good because it’s a message which says to exhausted 21st-century people, desperately trying to make a name for ourselves, it says, “Stop. You don’t need to. The weight you carry of your own inadequacies and faults and flaws, that has been borne by God himself. God wants to make friends with you. God wants to be in a relationship with you.”
Forgiveness is available. New life is available. Restoration is available. Refreshment is available. I have to say, personally, I come to Good Friday in a once it’s a shock coming in and realizing what you’re really like.
There’s a bit of pain involved in that. But, my goodness, it’s just an extraordinary, uplifting moment, puts a spring in my step to know that the God who made the universe also bore in His body, my sin, and wants it out of love for me. That’s the best news there is, and so Good Friday is really very, very good.
So Michael plainly Good Friday is in truth a high watermark of a believer’s life, instead of the lonely, foreboding day that it must have been for Jesus’s followers and family that Friday evening. What is our hope today for the year ahead?
Michael: The hope for the rest of the year. Well, I just think it’s something to get you out of bed in the morning because you know that God is active. That’s what it’s saying. God has done something. So that’s made space.
I mean you use that language of making. It’s made space for us to live and be free to serve him because we’re not trying to just impress God. We don’t have kind of try and get an school mark with God. You know it’s not like trying to score 99%. Though we’ve admitted we’ve failed, but God’s done what we needed done, and then that’s made space for us to freely and joyfully serve.
In fact, one of the great things about Christianity, I think, is it’s really stick. It says the world is a broken place and it’s filled with broken people. But we admit our brokenness and we can still have immense joy because, in the midst of that brokenness, and in the midst of all the struggling, and wrestling, and exhaustion, and all of that, there is hope, there’s extraordinary hope.