The observance of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the Christian religion. We asked leaders of the principal denominations to share their thoughts on Easter
The Rev Alan Upson, president, Methodist Church of New Zealand:
"Just looking, thanks" will be the words of many shoppers this weekend. Behind the words the principle, "I don't want to get involved." Behind the principle, the fear of being swamped with other people's stuff. I'll look at the evening news, but stay as a spectator, thanks. Not too close. Just want to check the pulse of the New Zealand public. I'm happy to be just one of the crowd. After all what can one person do?
So I hope I'll not be the first arriving at a road accident. I once was, long ago - stood in a circle at a distance from a motorcyclist dying under a blanket. We were all waiting for the ambulance. I was just a boy. But I wanted to go to the motorcyclist, pull the blanket back, hug him and say, "It'll be all right. You'll be OK. The ambulance is on its way."
You see, he was my brother. Literally. But I couldn't move. The circle had me locked in and I couldn't be the first to break it. Anyway, what could one young boy do? That was long ago but my freezing then still hurts now. He died on the way to hospital without my words in his ears.
Easter is not a religious irrelevance. It's about the inner struggle to break the circle of inertia. It's a shout of rebellion, "One person can make a difference!" Easter yells through the silence of spectators to say, "Your being here makes a difference - no matter how small you feel." What can one person do? Quite a lot, actually. The world can be a better place because you're in it. Look into the heart of Easter and see.
LIFE IS TRANSFORMED
The Most Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic Bishop of Auckland:
Jesus Christ was crucified in Jerusalem on a Friday around the time of the Passover festival that year. His body was quickly buried before nightfall so that Sabbath obligations could be kept.
Early on the Sunday morning some of his followers went to the tomb to complete the Jewish burial rituals but were shocked to find that the tomb was empty and the body was missing.
Strange rumours then began to spread claiming that he was alive and that he had been seen by his friends. The same people who had ordered the execution of Jesus now turned their attention to his followers, but these followers were so convinced that Jesus was still alive with some form of transformed life that they refused to renounce this belief, even in the face of beatings, imprisonment, and death itself.
Despite the best efforts of powerful leaders at the time, the missing body, which would instantly end such speculation, was never found.
Christianity is always within just one generation of extinction. All it would take would be for a whole generation to be unconvinced by the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus, and Christianity would be consigned to the files of past religions. Significantly, this has never happened.
For almost 2000 years some have always been convinced by the Easter message and have grown to love and honour Jesus as their living Lord.
When St Paul spoke of the resurrection of the body to the Greek philosophers in ancient Athens, they hooted with laughter, as so many others have done in every age.
But for those who find they do accept the story of that first Easter, life is transformed and the world appears, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, to be "charged" with the grandeur of God.
Major Heather Rodwell, divisional commander, the Salvation Army:
Undeniably it was an awful act, but not uncommon. Execution by crucifixion was appalling nonetheless.
What made this occurrence stand out was that Jesus Christ was one of those being killed that day. The Christ Who had awed the crowds, impressed with His authority, attracted with His compassion, raised the hopes of those oppressed by political circumstance.
He was one of the three that day. Christ's death and resurrection continues to this day as the central celebration of our Christian faith. Unlike its Christmas counterpart, there's uneasiness about re-enactment. The horrendous realities of such a death, made more palatable by the resurrection ending of the story, but barely.
The Bible offers explanation of the unseen dynamic contained within these events. One such reference is the Apostle Paul's words when he says: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, no longer counting people's sins against them (2 Corinthians 5: 17)
It's almost unfathomable that something so awful as an innocent man dying a criminal's death can have contained within it something so magnificent. This is what our faith teaches us. In Jesus Christ there's opportunity for anybody to be reconciled to relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We were created to be in this relationship. Estrangement from God lies at the root of all that makes life fractured and unmanageable.
Easter invites us to consider what happened 2000 years ago, and to experience the reconciliation offered in Jesus Christ. That something so seemingly tragic as an innocent man dying a criminal's death remains the critical element in restoring our relationship to God must surely also help us to believe for divine dynamics are present and active in the mysteries and tragedies of our lives, too.
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself... The witnesses at the cross didn't see it, but now this has been revealed. Easter invites us to believe in the goodness of God and God's power to redeem.
WEIGHT OF SORROWS
Elder Michael A. Roberts, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
We are familiar with the events of Easter - Judas's kiss of betrayal in the garden, the mock trial of Jesus by the chief priests and elders, his interrogation by Pilate, his scourging by the Roman soldiers, the path to Calvary, the crucifixion, the resurrection, Jesus' appearance to Mary, to Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, to the disciples gathered in the upper room and to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias.
One of the more significant, but often forgotten event of Easter happened in the Garden of Gethsemane before the betrayal by Judas. Jesus had retired there to pray in preparation for the events which he knew were about to unfold. While his disciples struggled to stay awake, he went a short way off and prayed to his Father. During this time, he experienced intense spiritual suffering. It was here that he experienced the full weight of the sorrows and the transgressions of all humanity.
We are faced with two fatal separations: temporal and spiritual. The former refers to the separation of body and spirit that we know as death. The latter refers to our spiritual separation from God caused by transgression.
In dying on the cross, Jesus atoned for the cause of temporal death, ie, the transgression of Adam and Eve. The result of this temporal atonement is that resurrection, or the coming together again of our spirits and our restored bodies, became an unconditional gift from God to all people.
This is what Paul referred to when he said to the Corinthians: "But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive."
In his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took upon himself the tremendous burden of the sins of the world. The result of this spiritual atonement is that forgiveness is available to those who repent of the things they do wrong and which separate them from God.
Jesus himself said, "For behold, I God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent."
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah poetically foretold of the coming of the Messiah: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him: he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: and with his stripes we are healed."
The mortal experience of the Son of God qualifies him to understand our sorrows, our weaknesses, our transgressions and our pain.
As he said to the saints in their time of persecution: "Know thou, my son that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?"
This, then, is the legacy of Gethsemane and of that first Easter - that the Son of God gave us cause for hope through his selfless sacrifice. What transpired in Gethsemane links our lives with the life of the Son of God in a most personal way. It must not be forgotten.
SEARCH FOR INTEGRITY
The Rev Andrew Norton, moderator of the Auckland Presbytery:
Enough of smoke and mirrors!
Enough of double standards and political speak!
Enough of pretence that hides the true nature of the soul!
One day all that will come into the light and will be seen for what it is.
Today we call it accountability or transparency. Today the public spotlight is searching for integrity.
Hidden within the Easter story is one of those moments. Peter, one of Jesus' best friends, boasted that while others would flee when the going got tough he wouldn't, even if it cost him his life.
Jesus responded to Peter saying, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times."
Later that day Peter came under the spotlight of public scrutiny, first by a "servant girl" (surely she doesn't count?), then by a series of "bystanders" as to his allegiance to Jesus. Three times he gave a point blank denial, "I never knew the man!" At that moment the rooster crowed.
Amazing. Caught out by a servant girl, a crowd of nobodies and a rooster!
Peter did not hire a PR company to manage his response; he went out and cried and cried and cried.
The Easter message is packed with moments of truth just like this. Justice was sacrificed in the name of political expediency, the religious washed their hands, and truth found its voice only in silence. Moments that none of us can escape.
Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great calls it "brutal honesty". No transformation can take place until we have that moment of brutal honesty. Until then we are just playing games.
And what about you - when was the last time you heard the rooster crow, or has the rooster been silenced by the axe?
POWER OF FORGIVENESS
The Very Rev Ross Bay, Bishop-elect of the Anglican diocese of Auckland:
Forgiveness is a major theme in the teaching of Jesus and in the New Testament of the Bible. It is present in the Sermon on the Mount in what Jesus says about non-retaliation. It is within the Lord's Prayer which he teaches to the disciples (forgive us as we forgive others). Words of forgiveness are among the dying words of Jesus on the cross. After the resurrection, Jesus seeks out Peter so that they can be reconciled in spite of Peter's denial of Jesus in his time of greatest need.
The early church took as their central message the proclamation of forgiveness. It was a message about how through the cross of Jesus, God was offering the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of God and humanity. And from this spiritual reality there came a human outworking. Those who experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God are then to make that real in their human relationships.
Many of the parables of Jesus reinforce forgiveness as an imperative. In one he tells the story of someone who was forgiven a significant debt due to an inability to pay it. That same person immediately goes out and finds one of his own debtors, who by comparison owes an infinitesimal amount, and threatens him in order to get his money back. The point is that those who have been shown mercy must act in the same way. It is worth us reflecting on the ways in which we have been shown grace and mercy by people, and the extent to which we are willing in turn to show it to others.
There is incredible power in the exercise of forgiveness. The current debates on crime and punishment in this country might cause us to pause and wonder where the place of forgiveness and reconciliation might be within those very human processes of our society. The message of Easter is about the unconditionally forgiving love of God, and the hope of new beginnings for all.
WHAT IS OUR RESPONSE?
Pastor Colin Hopkins, Auckland Baptist Churches:
Surely Easter is the ultimate story of two halves. For children, hot cross buns were reserved for sharing on Good Friday and Easter eggs for Easter Sunday.
In this way they served as reminders of the two significant events that make up the Easter story. The Crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and the celebration of new life that is available through the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday.
It is said that there is no greater love than for a person to give up their life for a friend. On Good Friday Jesus did that for you and for me. The amazing thing is that, while we didn't even know Him, at the cross He counted us as "His friends". In this one act He has sought to rescue us from the eternal consequences of all of our wrongdoing and mistakes, to restore us to a relationship with God, our creator.
Easter Sunday - or Resurrection Sunday - provides us with hope and confidence that as death and the grave could not hold Jesus, that in Him we, too, can be raised to an eternal future free from sin and grief.
Easter eggs and hot cross buns are now sold and consumed weeks before the Easter weekend even arrives, and the pressure for these holidays to be free from trading restrictions means that steadily the significance of the Easter events are being devalued and even forgotten.
The question however still remains: What is our response to this story of two halves?