On that first Good Friday, darkness descended at midday. The followers of Jesus looked on in disbelief. The one that they had hoped would liberate them from oppression was hanging helpless on a wooden cross: the most inhumane form of torture and execution ever devised by humankind.
Jesus hung there - the victim of betrayal, loneliness, injustice, pain and death - and gloom and darkness covered the earth.
But that wasn't the end of the story.
His followers were devastated. Although Jesus had spoken to them about his forthcoming death, they had never understood it. Their dreams were shredded and left in tatters.
How many of us experience those moments of lost hope, destroyed vision and broken dreams, both in our personal lives and our communities?
The Saturday of Easter gives us time between that dark moment and what was to come. Jesus' followers wondered "what now?" They felt grief, confusion, fear and maybe even anger. Like trampers who had lost their compass, they felt disoriented and utterly lost.
That sense of loss and confusion is not uncommon in the human experience. It can happen through the loss of loved ones who act as anchors in our lives, job losses, or unexpected changes that confuse and unsettle us.
Christianity declares that Jesus, the one who died on the cross, was God dwelling among us; God in the flesh. This means that in his experience of the cross, we had the creator of the universe experiencing our humanity.
In the cross he walked a mile and then some, in our shoes. This is empathy.
Through Jesus we see God who has climbed into the dark pit with us. God seen in the Easter story is the one who knows and experiences our dark moments; and takes them on as his own.
When others let us down the hope present in the Easter story still stands. It's a hope that stands for eternity.
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But God does not leave us in the grief, confusion and loss of Easter Saturday. The story of Easter is ultimately about the Resurrection.
Christianity was born when Jesus came alive from the dead and walked out of his own tomb. Then he sought out and visited the most discouraged and defeated of his followers and revealed himself to them. He ate bread and fish with them. He showed them the scars of the crucifixion. The body that had been executed by crucifixion was fully alive again. Humanity's oldest enemy, death, was defeated.
Jesus was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again. This can seem incomprehensible to the contemporary mind because such things simply don't happen.
Again, this reflects our humanity. How often, in the middle of our darkest times, is hope incomprehensible? How often does the way through seem impossible?
Often the way forward in life seems hazy or even dark. We can be burdened by the drudgery of day-to-day life and trying to make ends meet. We know the issues in our communities and struggle to see solutions to problems. Far-off conflict and wars and the fear they breed can seem insurmountable.
Often in those times we cling to things that give the illusion of hope, but they are temporal and fleeting. Those things can be in our personal lives - poor relationships, addictions - or they can be more external, such as politicians and elections. So often these things let us down.
The Christian faith and its understanding of God, seen in the story of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus, vividly shows us God who "gets it" and offers a hope that is not fleeting.
When others let us down, be they friends, family, work colleagues, community leaders or global leaders, the hope present in the Easter story still stands.
It's a hope that stands for eternity no matter what happens in our city or the world around us.
The Resurrection tells us that God is in the business of making all things new. There is divine hope.
The Resurrection tells us that out of darkness, out of despair, out of destruction, life can spring forth no matter how incomprehensible it might seem. Newness of life is God's end-game. The flourishing of our humanity and the creation in which we live is the vision set before us in the Resurrection. The Easter story reflects the struggle of our humanity but it also reflects the best of what life will be.
This is the assurance that Christians live with, fuelled by the historical reality of Jesus Christ. It has caused Christians to set up hospitals, schools, and engage in furthering our community's welfare wherever we find ourselves. Because we are people of the Resurrection we live with the belief that hope is always present, even when the darkness seems overwhelming. We may not always live up to the ideal, but every Easter we're called back to that hope and reminded about what God is up to as seen in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
You are welcome to join our Christian communities this Easter weekend. We invite you to catch a vision of Resurrection hope for yourself, for your community and for this city of Auckland.
• Pastor Paul Allen-Baines, Auckland district chairman, Congregational Union
• Rev Dr Neville Bartle, national superintendent, Church of the Nazarene
• Rt Rev Ross Bay, Anglican bishop of Auckland
• Pastor Luke Brough, national leader, Elim Churches
• Mr Glyn Carpenter, national director, New Zealand Christian Network
• Pastor Paul de Jong, senior pastor, LIFE
• Pastor Jonathan Dove, senior pastor, Greenlane Christian Centre
• Rev Patrick Dunn, Catholic bishop of Auckland
• Mr David Goold, on behalf of the Open Brethren Churches
• 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
• Rev Kok Soon Lee, Auckland Chinese Churches Association
• Very Rev Jo Kelly-Moore, dean, Auckland Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
• Pastor Joe Kummerow, Auckland leader, Lutheran Church
• Rev Andrew Marshall, national director, Alliance Churches
• Pastor Bruce Monk, national leader, Acts Churches
• Pastor Sam Monk, senior pastor, Equippers Church
• Pastor Peter Mortlock, senior pastor, City Impact Church
• Rev Margaret Anne Low, moderator, Northern Presbytery, Presbyterian Church.
• Pastor Lloyd Rankin, national director, Vineyard Churches
• Pastor Dean Rush, senior leader, C3 Church Auckland
• Pastor Jim Shaw, New Life Churches Apostolic team
• Bishop Brian Tamaki, senior minister, Destiny Churches International
• Pastor Allan Taylor, Northern Baptist Association
• Pastor Eddie Tupa'i, president, North New Zealand Conference, Seventh-day Adventist Church
• Rev Dr Richard Waugh, national superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist Church
• Rev Marilyn Welch, Auckland Manukau Northland superintendent, Methodist Church