Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
The young people in our Diocese have been invited to participate in an essay competition in which they address the topic, “What does Easter mean for me.” I want to suggest that this is a question which all of us need to engage as we come to yet another observance of Easter Day and the subsequent weeks which constitute the season of Easter.
At the most basic and mundane level, one would certainly hear from Jamaicans references to bun and cheese, the end of the season of Lent with all its sobering and low-keyed music or absence, as well as the absence of the inspiring presence of flowers, subsequently overtaken by what looks like the pulling out of all the stops with a joyful celebration on Easter morning. Beyond these expressions which may be real for some persons, we need to ask what lies behind these things and what is Easter all about?
One place to begin is by paying attention to the readings which have formed the backdrop leading up to Easter Day. Prominent among them are the readings from the Old Testament which speak of the experience of the Israelite community, who have been called of God through the patriarchs, and whose pilgrimage takes them into Egypt in response to a famine where they prospered for a while, but subsequently find themselves enslaved by their Egyptian hosts. In the harsh experience of servitude they cry out in distress as their experience of life becomes more oppressive. The biblical text does not tell us to whom or where was their cry directed. What it does tell us, however, is that God who is ever present, and who sees, even before being acknowledged, heard their cry of oppression, suffering and distress and acted.
The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
God of Liberation and Transformation
By his initiative, God shapes the story in a way that is totally different to what it could have been had it rested mostly on human action or vision toward liberation. But liberation is not the end of the story, but a step within the bigger story of setting aside a people whose way of life will be a proclamation of justice and righteousness. What the readings from the prophetic books during Lent have made plain to us is Israel’s failure to faithfully exercise this mission to a life of justice and righteousness.
What is clear in all of this is that God, in his divine providence, is present and active in his world and in human situations of suffering, and acts in ways that bring liberation, transformation and a new future which are not inherent in the situation.
When we come to the New Testament and engage the narratives of the life and ministry of Jesus as contained in the gospels, we become engaged with the life, teaching and miracles of Jesus and, like the disciples, fail to hear or understand the sayings of Jesus regarding the suffering and death which awaited him, and that there would be life beyond these outcomes. More than any of the other gospels, it is said that the shadow of the Cross is present from the earliest chapters of St. Mark, as by chapter 3:6 we see the Pharisees and the Herodians, leaders of the religious and civil institutions, bind themselves together in an unholy alliance to destroy Jesus. And while these forces pursue their plan, we see that Jesus is not unnerved by their intention. Somehow, he is aware that God the Father, as was manifested in the Israelite situation of the Exodus, was the seeing, and hearing One who would bring out of the evil, suffering and death that was being projected, liberation, transformation and a new future which the parameters of the evil ones and their actions could not define, ultimately.
A Suffering God
But the God who sees, listens and hears human pain is not a dispassionate observer, but one who shares in the suffering endured by his people, because he who loves shares the suffering of the other. There seems to be much that constitute suffering for our people today arising from crime and violence, the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and now the impact of the price increases which is affecting all, especially the poor and most vulnerable.
There is a little book, Lament for a Son, written by a theologian who lost his adolescent son in an accident, and who, in reflecting on the pain and grief of that experience, speaks to the issue of his love for his son, and the suffering which resulted from the death of his beloved son. From that position, he comes to a new appreciation of the link between love and suffering, more especially, the love of God which is manifested in the suffering and death of his son Jesus Christ. I want to quote a few lines from his work which speaks to the reality of the suffering endured on the Cross as an expression of love.
God is love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering world is to suffer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love.
In our experience today, it is clear that there is suffering which prevails for many persons as they try to cope with the demands of life, but the suffering God sees, hears and listens to the pain, and acts as he brings transformation and hope to our situations.
It is in this confidence that our Lord spoke repeatedly about his impending death, knowing that with God, the suffering and evil to which he was subjected would not be the end of the story. So, on the Cross he cries out to the Father in pain, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”, yet knowing that the end of the story lies with God, and so he ends his life entrusting himself into the hand of the suffering, loving God, “into your hands I commit my spirit”. But whatever claims Jesus may have made for himself, if the Cross and grave were the end of the story, he would only have been a good man who had lived and died as a martyr.
Easter – Celebrating Hope and New Possibilities
Each Easter I find myself going back to some words from the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, as he captures for us the movement from the Cross to the open grave, from death to resurrection:
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate energizing for the new future. The wrenching of Friday had left only the despair of Saturday (Luke 24:21) and there was no reason to expect Sunday after that Friday. There is not any way to explain the resurrection out of the previously existing reality. The resurrection can only be received and affirmed and celebrated as the new action of God whose province it is to create new futures for people and to let them be amazed in the midst of despair.
In the long run, it has been asserted that Easter is not just about an event in the past as it relates to the death of Jesus, but an attitude to life which is founded on that event and which declares that, however dark and tragic may be the experience, God sees, hears, and acts in transformative ways to introduce into the situation hope, possibility and a transformed vision for the future.
Easter is a resounding celebration of the hope, peace and confidence we have in Jesus and his resurrection by God the Father. Surely, the one who has borne our grief, carried our sorrows, and gave himself a ransom for our sins, can be and shall be our refuge and support all life through. In our despair, sorrow, grief, failure, weakness, sickness, loss, loneliness, need, hunger, crisis, he is ever there with us and for us, pointing us to new possibilities and hope.
May you have a blessed Easter in which you experience once more the power of the resurrection of Jesus and the attitude of hope, victory, and triumph over life’s Good Fridays which it offers you.
The Most Rev. Howard Gregory
Archbishop of the West Indies, Primate & Metropolitan and
Bishop of Jamaica & The Cayman Islands