Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Redemption: The Spirit of Humility, Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Easte

We are in the middle of the perhaps the most important week in the Christian calendar.

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday - commemorating Jesus' triumphant entry to Jerusalem and ends on Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday with an empty tomb and appearances of the Risen Lord, first to Mary Magdalene and then to others.

But between a triumphal entry and a glorious resurrection lie rejection, betrayal, denial, pain, humiliation and death.

In the midst of these dark events, these moments of suffering, as humankind's worst attributes are brought to the forefront, we are given a precious gift.

As we are reminded of how low we can go, how greed for wealth, lust for power and the fear that causes us to brutalise those different from us, we a given glimpses of the strength of love.

In the face of tyranny, we are shown humility.

At the moment of injustice, we receive forgiveness. And surrounded by conflict we experience reconciliation.

The humility of Christ during Holy Week is reflected in his washing of his disciples' feet.

Christ performs a lowly task generally done by the lowliest servant in the household. Jesus says of this in verses John 13: 13-15:

"You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. "

This statement by Jesus can apply both to earthly relationships of masters and servants as well as to a human's relationship to Christ.

We find in the pages of the gospels descriptions of how Jesus approached His relationship with God the Father.

He was always submissive to the Father in everything.

Beyond this, God the Father is the greatest servant in the universe. In our behalf, He sustains everything we depend on for our very lives.

In John 13:14, Christ says, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet."

The common explanation for this is that it teaches us to learn humility by doing good for others, by doing acts of service or kindness for our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and the stranger.

The lesson is one of humble servant-leadership.

As I reflect on the leadership crisis in my community of faith, which his reflected in society in general, I can't help wondering if we have missed the mark by grooming people for leadership rather than servant-hood.

Our nation needs to groom servant-leaders who lead by example, saying do as I do, rather than do as I say.

On Monday night, we of Dudley Circuit reflected on the first "word" of Jesus on the Cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

It makes sense that the first word of Jesus from the cross is a word of forgiveness. That's the point of the cross, after all.

Jesus is dying so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity.

But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn't come only to those who don't know what they are doing when they sin.

In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong.

God chooses to wipe away our sins, not because we have some convenient excuse, and not because we have tried hard to make up for them, but because he is a God of amazing grace, with mercies that are new every morning.

For those of us who profess to be Christians we are challenged with not only asking forgiveness from those we have wronged but also with the sometimes very difficult task of forgiving others, even when we are in the midst of suffering, oppression or still healing from physical, emotional and spiritual wounds.

We are called to transform the pain and fear of wrongdoing through the healing and positivity of love.

On Friday we will complete the journey to Golgotha and the cross. We recall the sixth "word" from the cross, "It is finished."

The work of salvation is complete and reconciliation between humankind and God is possible through the sacrifice of the Christ.

When Jesus said "It is finished," surely he was expressing relief that his suffering was over.

"It is finished" meant, in part, "This is finally done!"

If you have watched the film "The Passion of the Christ" and witnessed the visualisations of the brutal torture and execution of Jesus, it is a relief when it is finished.

But the Greek verb translated as "It is finished" (tetelestai) means more than just this. Eugene Peterson captures the full sense of the verb in The Message: "It's done . . . complete." Jesus had accomplished his mission.

He had announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God. He had revealed the love and grace of God.

And he had embodied that love and grace by dying for the sin of the world, thus opening up the way for all to live under the reign of God.

To finish the "unfinished business" in our nation will require much more sacrifice.

It will require us to be humble, to recognise and celebrate our shared human diginity in the midst of our struggles.

It requires us to forgive our oppressors, no matter hard we find it to do so and to open our arms in trust and reconciliation with them no matter how painful.

This is the price of redemption for our nation. And if our whole nation is to be redeemed, we must all collectively commit to finishing this work.

In peace and with love I extend to you an invitation to join us at Dudley Church in Toorak for a Good Friday service with a difference (Friday 2nd April at 9am) and a combined Easter Sunday sunrise service with Dudley and Wesley Churches at Ratu Sukuna Park (Sunday, 4th April at 6am).

May your Easter be blessed with the appreciation of what one can do for the good of others and the joy of the victory of love over fear, manifested in the Risen Christ.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with.

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