The recent massacre at the mosques in Christchurch has brought shock and dismay to all New Zealand.
As Auckland church leaders we condemn this evil attack and are horrified that such an atrocity should take place on New Zealand soil, and against people peacefully gathered to worship.
This act is repulsive to all people.
Jesus Christ urged us to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show compassion and mercy, and to live in goodwill and peace. Racism, brutality and violence are all profoundly inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, though he suffered each of them.
We live in a damaged world. The beautiful world that God created has often been marred and despoiled by human self-centredness, fear, prejudice, and anger. God's heart is broken when such violence occurs.
The hopeful news of Christianity is that Jesus Christ came into this world to counter evil, and to start bringing the world back to God. At Easter we think back to the accounts of Jesus' death.
Jesus was not simply a great teacher of long ago. He was God in human form, the visible image of the invisible God. Jesus came into this world by means of a human birth. Some of the early years of his life were spent as a refugee in Egypt. He experienced poverty, pain, hunger, and discrimination. He worked with his hands to make a living and to support his mother, brothers and sisters.
He walked the dusty paths of this world and was truly one of us except that he was without sin.
When Jesus was about 30 he began his public ministry and announced the coming of the kingdom of God. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, reached out with love and compassion to those who were marginalised by society and in so doing demonstrated God's love for all of humanity.
The common people of the towns and villages welcomed Jesus but the religious and political leaders saw him as a threat.
Judas, one of Jesus' own followers, betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies. The religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus' popularity handed him over to the Roman authorities.
Pilate (the Roman governor) cross-examined Jesus and three times declared him innocent. But Pilate was also motivated by concern for his own political career, and as a result committed a great injustice. Pilate knowingly condemned a completely innocent man to death.
As we read the New Testament records we see that greed, jealousy, cowardice and injustice all helped bring about Jesus' death.
It is easy to look back and condemn those who helped destroy Jesus. But when we look a little deeper we realise that we too can be quick to judge and dismiss others whose views seem to be different from our own.
There is another side to the cross. The Bible says, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". Jesus said that no one would take his life from him but that he would lay down his life of his own accord, for the sake of the world.
Jesus "took our sin in his own body on the cross so that we could die to sin and live for righteousness."
In the events immediately preceding his death, Jesus was falsely accused. He was whipped with a Roman scourge until the skin on his back was shredded. Acting out of love and compassion he was taking upon his own shoulders all the anger, bitterness and hatred of this world.
The community leaders brought political charges against Jesus. They said that Jesus kept talking of a coming Kingdom and so was proclaiming himself to be a king. The Roman soldiers seized on this idea and ridiculed Jesus by dressing him in a scarlet robe and putting a crown of thorns on his head.
Out of racial prejudice they mocked this humble "King of the Jews." In their eyes he did not compare to the pomp and power of Roman rulers.
Not only did they curse and ridicule Jesus but then they further humiliated him by stripping him naked and nailing him to a cross to die in agony.
Jesus looked down at his tormentors and prayed, "Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing."
Jesus was executed by being hung on a cross to die, with two criminals hanging on either side of him. It seemed as if once again hatred and injustice had won the victory. Finally his body was taken down from the cross and placed in a burial cave. Hope had died.
But three days later vindication took place. God raised Jesus from the dead. Love had overcome hatred. Life had conquered death.
This is what Christians celebrate at Easter time.
This Easter you are welcome — as always — to our Auckland churches. Join with us as we celebrate Jesus who through his sinless life and sacrificial death defeated the powers of darkness and evil, and through his resurrection conquered the grave and offers eternal life to all who follow him.
A policeman collects flowers left by well-wishers outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch. Photo / Mark Mitchell
• Pastor Paul Allen-Baines, Auckland District Chairman, Congregational Union
• Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican Bishop of Auckland
• Pastor Tak Bhana, Senior Pastor, Church Unlimited
• Pastor Paul de Jong, Senior Pastor, LIFE
• Pastor Jonathan Dove, Senior Pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre
• Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland
• Dr Rod Edwards, on behalf of the Christian Community Churches (serving the Open Brethren)
• Majors Ian & Liz Gainsford, Divisional Leaders, The Salvation Army
• Pastor Ken Harrison, Senior Pastor, Harvest Christian Church Papakura, AOGNZ
• Pastor Dr Brian Hughes, Senior Pastor, Calvary Chapel
• Rev Dr Stuart Lange, Interim National Director, NZ Christian Network
• Rev Kok Soon Lee, Auckland Chinese Churches Association
• Rev Andrew Marshall, National Director, Alliance Churches
• 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
• Pastor Peter Mortlock, Senior Pastor, City Impact Church
• Pastor Lloyd Rankin, National Director, Vineyard Churches
• Pastor Boyd Ratnaraja, National Leader, Elim Churches
• Pastor Dean Rush, Senior Leader, C3 Church Auckland
• Pastor Jim Shaw, New Life Churches Executive team
• Rev Paul Talluri, on behalf of the Church
• Pastor Ben Timothy, President, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
• Rev Dr Richard Waugh, National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
• Rev Graeme White, Auckland Synod Superintendent, Methodist Church