What we can learn from Easter 2018

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I write this on Good Friday 2018, but I could have written something like it on any day, any year. For the more some things change, it seems, the more they stay the same.




Good Friday 2018 comes after news story upon news story about great and damaging wickedness in high places: the most eminent of government offices, the most powerful of corporate suites, and the most famous of churches. But the high and mighty have always traded in subterfuge, abuse, manipulation, oppression, propaganda, profligacy, adultery, and murder.




Good Friday 2018 comes after a string of heart-breaking stories of huge populations of misery in Yemen/Syria/Myanmar/China/Afghanistan/Sudan/North Korea/South Africa. Awful stories, each one. Yet famine, war, disease, exile, genocide—they all go back to the dawn of human culture.

Good Friday 2018 comes after longing for a political saviour is being disappointed all around the world. Prime ministers and presidents elected on a tide of hope seem much less charming and much less competent, much more interested in themselves than in those they promised to help. Tech wizards who promised to bring us together have increased our mutual suspicion to the point of paranoia. And entertainers who brought us delight now bring us horror, disgust, and contempt. But all that’s different nowadays is the speed and vividness of the revelations.

The Easter Story deals with matters at a gigantic symbolic level. The leaders of God’s chosen people, who flattered themselves as being representatives of righteousness, and officials of the greatest empire on earth, who flattered themselves as being representatives of law and order, conspire viciously and illegally to rid themselves of the Lord of All in a gruesome spectacle of degradation, torture, and death.

Thus, however, it has ever been. Power has always resisted and killed what it could not colonize and co-opt.

But the Easter Story also zooms in on the little people who are meaner than they have to be. Note the soldiers who, far beyond the requirements of their orders, beat, spit on, and mock their helpless prisoner. Pause to hear the clergy who, as they gaze upon what seems to be their utter triumph over their annoying foe, can’t resist adding insult to injury in unfunny sarcasm. Even passers-by, skittering along on their errands, indulge themselves by hurling scorn at those pathetic losers up there on crosses.

Yes, the little people: people like me. People who have to work hard to restrain the harsh word that otherwise so easily spills out—as if it has a force of its own. People who have to work hard to avoid lust, and covetousness, and vengeance—as if they are appetites clamouring for satisfaction. People who have to work hard not to be bad and to sometimes be actually good, as if the table is always tilted toward sin, the gravitational force constantly pulling downward toward evil.

Good Friday 2018 reminds us, and should remind me, that we are worse, much worse, than we prefer to think we are. Those people up there in high places are just us writ large. Would we do better if we were up there? Let’s just see how we’re doing down here. The Easter Story issues a grim report card to almost everyone involved.

If we will let it, Easter will tell us not what we think we would like to hear—that we’re actually pretty good, and things will get gradually better, and eventually it’ll be all right—but what we need to know. It will tell us that we’re actually mortally immoral, that things are, and will be, as they ever have been, and only the direct intervention of the Supreme Being on Calvary, in Jesus’ tomb, at the end of History, and in your life and mine moment by moment can make the difference that needs to be made.




Easter tells us that we need help, a lot of it, from outside ourselves and our systems. Thanks be to God that that help is provided. Woe be to us if we do not gratefully take hold of it.

 

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).