The television personality Jeremy Clarkson is reported as writing in a recent edition of his British Sunday newspaper column that if Jesus were to have been born in New Zealand, his stable would likely have been in Palmerston North.
That being the case, a reasonable question might be where would the resurrection would have happened? This sideways tribute to the beauty of our land brings Christianity into our midst in a very particular way. At least some essence of the story of Jesus is acknowledged, which is more than can be said of the other reference points to Easter in our more secular gathering places. Shops full of Easter eggs, chocolate, new-born lambs and chicks refer predominantly to a Northern Hemisphere festival where at least seasonally speaking, spring is on the rise.
In New Zealand however, our season is an emergent autumn, and our drought-stricken land is a far cry from the hopeful signs of new birth that spring declares. But the resurrection of Jesus does not begin in consumerism. Our understanding of the resurrection is grounded in a religious context that is millennia old, and carries a deep connection to the Jewish observation of the festival of Passover: the story of the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
It was the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his friends, the disciples, the night of his betrayal leading to his arrest, and rapidly on to the events that led to his execution on the cross and beyond, to his resurrection from the dead. All those events happened a long time ago, in a context very different from our own. So where and how do we begin to understand and articulate a radical belief in God who raised Jesus from the dead? In our world of scientific exploration there is little room for mystery, wonder and unexpected events that turn everything upside down.
"Beginning" is a good place to start, because although in a Wellywood context, the resurrection might be viewed as the triumphal climax to the story of Jesus, in actual fact, it marks more of a beginning than an ending. In the New Testament, our earliest documents are a group of letters written by a follower of Jesus who underwent a personal transformation precisely because he encountered the risen Jesus.
This man's name was Paul. In speaking of the resurrection to a Christian community in the Greek city of Corinth two thousand years ago, Paul uses the imagery of a seed that is planted, and grows into a living plant. Something so ordinary and common-place that we could easily ignore it.
Paul's image of the growing green plant is a striking message of hope in our context where drought has affected most of New Zealand for the early part of this year. Just as our farms desperately need the life giving rain, so too, we as a nation need to open up our hearts to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. A personal encounter with the risen Jesus can bring new life and transformation to individual lives, families and even communities.
The resurrection is about the beginning of what would become a defining and distinct part of Christian belief, but it is also a story that is interwoven with the lives of quite ordinary people whose lives were transformed in quite extraordinary ways. In the New Testament, our written accounts of Jesus' life and resurrection take us deep into the narratives of women and men who were called to follow Jesus, and who went through all the ups and downs of life's experience. These included the pain of seeing Jesus die, the bewilderment at his absence; replaced by the astonishment and awe at his living presence again in their midst. Their thoughts of ending and disappointment were replaced with new beginnings and new possibilities which challenged the very essence of life and death, and brought into new perspective the power of God who put right what was wrong and brought restoration, hope and life into a void of emptiness, fear and death.
Towards the end of one of the Gospels in the New Testament, the books that tell us about Jesus' life, as we stand with the women at Jesus' empty tomb, wondering what was happening, a young man (probably an angel) appears to them saying: 'Tell Jesus' disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee ... '
Galilee is the place where Jesus began his teaching, and so we are invited perhaps to revisit the story and the journey and consider it anew, in the light of the resurrection glory that Easter brings. Each Easter is an opportunity to do this, reflecting back on the year behind us, and wondering about new beginnings in the year ahead.
Sometimes the complexities of our lives and of our relationships mean that we seem to go round in endless circles, but each time we have the opportunity to learn something new. Sister Frances Dominica, the founder of the world's first hospice for children, speaks of valuing time in its depth rather than in its length ... and so, standing at the empty tomb, the depth of feeling that the women experienced becomes tangible. The creator God is a God of re-creation, a God of new beginnings. The resurrection reminds us that God can bring triumph out of tragedy, hope can replace despair, and life can replace death.
The power of the resurrection lies not just in the fact of it having happened, but rather in its reaffirmation of life in a world where God is now set loose and everything is turned upside down. Death and the grave are not the end of our life's story. Jesus has defeated death and now offers eternal life to all who put their trust in him.
This Easter, we Christian leaders of Auckland invite you to explore a new beginning based on putting your faith in Jesus. Join our Christian communities in a prayerful and attentive search for new beginnings in our lives, and to declare again the wonder and power of God in Jesus' resurrection.
Christ is risen, Alleluia!
• 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 NZ
• Mr Glyn Carpenter, National Director, New Zealand Christian Network
• Rev Roy Christian, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church
• 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 the 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
• Major Stephen Jarvis, Divisional Commander, The Salvation Army
• 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 of New Zealand
• 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
• Pastor John Steele, National Leader, New Life Churches
• 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