We are a blessed country in so many ways. Not only are we surrounded by
beautiful natural landscapes and oceans, lakes and rivers, but we've also been
protected from the worst of the pandemic-induced restrictions prevalent
across the globe over the last year. The world looks on in envious disbelief at
our crowded music festivals, sports stadiums and spectator flotillas on the
azure Waitematā, as we enjoy the relative normality of a Kiwi summer.
But there is a lot we share in common with our socially distanced global neighbours.
When we look out on the world through the lens of the 24-hour news cycle, we can find ourselves doom-scrolling through what seems like a never-ending litany of bad news.
There seems to be something at the heart of the human story that trends towards conflict and chaos instead of peace and stability, not just on the world stage but also in our own lives, whānau and local communities too.
It's in this context that over 2.3 billion Christians across the globe are celebrating Easter this weekend. We believe it is the greatest story ever told. A story that speaks hope into a world that desperately needs it.
So, what is Easter all about? At the heart of the Easter story is the historical figure of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus is the eternal God who chose to become human so that he could rescue and restore us from the inside out.
It's a story about God's compassion and love for the world he created, not just by identifying with its trouble from afar like benevolent royalty but by entering into it in the most intimate way by becoming part of it and sharing our humanity. Incredibly, God's act of identification with us through Jesus went even further than this. Jesus was born into humble and compromised circumstances.
The one people assumed to be his father was a carpenter who chose to marry his fiancee. Though angels assured him that Mary had fallen pregnant by the Holy Spirit, the scandalous rumours still circulated. Jesus was born in a farm shed and soon after his birth a jealous local king put a death warrant on his head. With his family fleeing to Egypt, Jesus' early years were spent as a refugee in a foreign country, experiencing life as an outsider.
The God who chose to become one of us wasn't born into privilege and power, he was born into marginalised circumstances in an oppressed and remote corner of the Roman Empire. Jesus was called The Prince of Peace, but he was born into chaos and conflict.
We start to understand why God entered the world in this way when Jesus begins his public ministry at the age of 30. In his hometown synagogue in Nazareth he takes a scroll from the Hebrew Scriptures and reads out a famous section from the prophet Isaiah. In the Gospel of Luke we're told: Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."
Jesus came to rescue and heal the world he lovingly created, starting with the people who needed it most: the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed; in short, the people who were marginalised or shut out from their communities.
So, how did he do it? Jesus' story is full of surprises and unlikely turns. Although most people loved what he said and did, the religious and political leaders hated him because he threatened the status quo on which their influence and power rested. Both those who supported Jesus and those who opposed him wanted a political solution: either to appoint him ruler or to remove him as a potential rival. In the end, on Easter Friday a coalition of his opponents sentenced Jesus to death on a cross, a tortuous end reserved for the worst crimes and designed to warn off other seditious revolutionaries.
But here is where Easter takes its most dramatic turn yet. In Return of the King, the last film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, at the moment when all seems lost for the human kingdoms, Gandalf declares that "Things are now in motion that cannot be undone." Good Friday (as it became known) sets off a chain of events that would change the destiny of the world forever. After a dark weekend following Jesus' death, word gets out through his closest companions that his tomb became empty (on what has become known as Easter Sunday) and that attending angels have said he is alive. Disbelief soon turns to amazement as the now resurrected Jesus appears to these same followers and spends time with them. It launched a movement of hope that spread rapidly to every corner of the globe and continues to grow today.
So, why did Jesus die and what does it mean for us? Jesus embraced an unjust death at the hands of his accusers in order to overcome the broken patterns of human existence — what we call "sin" — that had led to chaos, conflict and death and to replace them with the gracious rhythms of God's self-giving love and forgiveness as the fundamental principle of the universe. By absorbing and overcoming sin and the power of death, the resurrected Jesus himself became the first person of a new humanity. Through this same Jesus we are invited to be reconciled with God, with ourselves, with each other and with the world itself.
Easter is a bold vision of the world made right through the love and care of its creator. Jesus Christ gave his perfect life so that we might have real life, in its fullness and forever. Now that's something to celebrate this Easter!
As Auckland Church Leaders, we welcome you to join us this Easter season at in-person or online services happening wherever you reside.
• Rev. Paul and Pam Allen-Baines, Congregational Union of N.Z.
• Rt. Rev. Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland
• Pastor Tak Bhana, Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited
• Pastors Paul and Maree de Jong, Senior Pastors, LIFE
• Pastors Jonathan and Robyn Dove, Senior Pastors, Gracecity Church (formerly Greenlane Christian Centre)
• Ven Dr Lyndon Drake, Anglican Archdeacon of Tāmaki Makaurau
• Most Rev. Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland
• Majors Ian & Liz Gainsford, Divisional Leaders, The Salvation Army
• Darren and Sharon Gammie, National Secretary AGNZ
• Most Rev Michael Gielen, Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Auckland
• Rev. Jonny and Esther Grant, Vicars, St Paul's Church
• Rev. Brett Jones, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
• Pastor Sanjai Kandregula, Executive member, Assemblies of God NZ
• Rev. Dr Stuart Lange, National Director, NZ Christian Network
• Pastor Bob Larsen, President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
• Rev. Kok Soon Lee, Auckland Chinese Churches Association
• Pastor David and Lissie MacGregor, National Directors of the NZ Vineyard Churches
• Rev. Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
• Very Rev. Anne Mills, Dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
• Rev. Steve Millward, Moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church
• Pastor Bruce Monk, International Overseer for Acts Churches & Equippers
• Pastor Sam Monk, Senior Pastor, Equippers Church & Acts National Leader
• Pastors Peter and Bev Mortlock, Senior Pastors, City Impact Church
• Rt. Rev. Te Kitohi Pikaahu, Anglican Bishop of Te Tai Tokerau
• Pastor Lui Ponifasio, on behalf of the Christian Community Churches of NZ
• Pastor Boyd and Sharon Ratnaraja, National Leaders, Elim Churches
• Pastors Dean and Fiona Rush, Senior Leaders, C3 Church Auckland
• Pastors Jim and Anneke Shaw, New Life Churches Executive team
• Co-pastors, Dan and Gabrielle Sheed & Rob and Alisha Wiseman - Central Vineyard
• Apostle Brian and Ps. Hannah Tamaki, Destiny Churches International
• Pastor Allan Taylor, Northern Baptist Association
• Pastor Jordan Walsh, Lead Pastor, Calvary Auckland.
• Rev. Graeme R. White, Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church of NZ