Easter is the great event that lies at the very heart of the Christian faith, and if there is one word that encompasses this meaning and significance, that word is "hope".
Hope has been hard-wired into the human psyche. Hope is not wishful thinking but the opposite of despair and cynicism. It is an instinctive knowing that good can overcome evil. It is possible to overcome the tragedy of loss and death, to struggle on against the odds, to overcome adversity, to achieve heroic deeds. Hope gives unexpected strength in those bleak and seemingly hopeless times when we experience loss and the letting go of security and health, and ultimately of our own lives.
An unknown author once wrote, Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible, and as Alexander Pope put it, Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
We have seen for ourselves in recent months how hope rebuilds broken lives and broken cities. We think of the amazing and heart-warming accounts of the hope that brought people in Christchurch through those terrible times in the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes; the hope that supported the victims who were trapped, and hope on the part of the rescue teams.
From time immemorial hope has been understood and expressed in many forms. Long before the advent of Christianity, many civilisations had stories or images to express the concept of hope. As far back as the 5th century BC, the mythical phoenix was presented as a symbol of rebirth, immortality, and renewal. It is found in many cultures - a bird that perished in a fire that burned it to ashes, from which a new, young phoenix arose reborn, to live again. This story is found in ancient Greek, Persian and Egyptian cultures and there are variations of it in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian history as well.
For 2000 years Christians have opened their hearts to a different kind of hope built on the real and tangible life and death and resurrection of the person of Jesus Christ. It is an assured hope that addresses the longings of the human heart for meaning and purpose and answers the seemingly overwhelming questions about who we are, why we exist and what are our origins and destiny.
Today's world, perhaps more than at any other time, is overwhelmed by anxiety. We fear nuclear destruction; we experience wars, diseases and famines as well as the reality of economic insecurity and the breakdown of long-held values. In Auckland this anxiety confronts us every time we go online, tune into radio or television or open our newspapers and for so many, in the rawness of daily life. It is not surprising that a sense of hopelessness is pervasive, especially among young people.
The secularised world does not offer answers. Neither does science. With all the growing understandings that science gives us about the origins and development of life, it does not and cannot answer our deep, personal search for meaning, or meet the yearning to love and be loved that is at the very essence of our humanity.
That great 4th century bishop St Augustine of Hippo put it like this. "Our hearts were made for You O Lord, and are ever restless until they rest in You." There seems to be this deep chasm within every human heart.
Jesus Christ, God's Son, in becoming human, revealed to us the generosity and altruism of God, and by the example of his own life he taught us how we, too, can follow in his footsteps. The loving God revealed to us by Jesus, is not a God who determines our value or destiny simply by tallying up our good deeds as the measure of a reward in eternal life. Instead, God loves us unconditionally and invites us to love both God and our neighbours in return. The cross upon which Jesus gave his life speaks more eloquently than any words of this unconditional love.
Easter celebrations recall Jesus' Resurrection from death to life. In conquering death, Jesus shows us that extinction is not our evolutionary fate, because through him death is not the end of the road. It is another step on the journey to perfection, to everlasting life in the love and presence of God - our creator's intended goal for humanity.
Through his resurrection, Jesus shows us that love is stronger than death. We need no longer be held prisoners in our own private darknesses of illness, futility, addiction and other forces that crush our spirits. Jesus has opened the doors in these dark places to the gentle healing and peace of our loving God.
A contemporary Christian writer, Rev Ronald Rolheiser, puts it like this:
God never overpowers, never twists arms, never pushes your face into something so as to take away your freedom. God respects our freedom and is never a coercive force. Christ is risen, though we might not see him! We don't always notice spring. The miraculous doesn't force itself on us. It's there, there to be seen, but whether we see or not, and what precisely we do see, depends mainly upon what's going on inside our own hearts.
You are invited to share in Easter worship with a church in your local community.
The church leaders
Rev Dr Neville Bartle, National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene.
Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland.
Pastor Tak Bhana, Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited.
Rev Norman Brookes, Auckland District Superintendent, Methodist Church of New Zealand.
Rev Murray Cottle, Regional Consultant, Auckland Baptist Churches.
Pastor Paul de Jong, Senior Pastor, LIFE.
Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland.
Mr Peter Eccles, Auckland District Chairman, Congregational Union of New Zealand.
Mr David Goold, on behalf of Open Brethren churches.
Pastor Mike Griffiths, National Leader, Elim Churches of New Zealand.
Pastor Ken Harrison, Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Church, Papakura AOGNZ.
Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel.
Rev Fakaofo Kaia, Moderator Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Very Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity.
Rev Dr John Kirkpatrick, Senior Pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre.
Rev Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand.
Pastor Bruce Monk, National Leader, Acts Churches NZ.
Pastor Sam Monk, Senior Pastor, Equippers Church.
Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Church.
Pastor Lloyd Rankin, National Director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa New Zealand.
Major Heather Rodwell, Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army.
Bishop Brian Tamaki, Destiny Churches.
Pastor Eddie Tupa'i, President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Rev Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand.
Mr Glyn Carpenter, National Director, NZ Christian Network.