[Power Point images] Easter 2022
PP The God of Easter – Introduction
What on earth can we do with Easter? What can progressive Christians say about the story of Easter? Looking at it from any angle the church presents, brings us face to face with traditional creeds and doctrines. It’s not for nothing that Easter liturgies are the central observances of the church. Everything the church traditionally believes about Jesus as Christ the Saviour, is based on beliefs originating from the events of Easter – as set out in the gospels.
But before the gospels, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul passed on a formula – that according to the scriptures (what else but the Hebrew Scriptures – the Old Testament) “Christ died for our sins.” Also that “he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” Problem is, none of that appears in the Hebrew scriptures.
But Paul then includes a list of people to whom he says Christ had appeared, including, last of all, to himself. Paul had clearly never heard the story of the crucifixion itself, or a story of an empty tomb. He doesn’t mention them. But that’s understandable. That story was not written until decades after Paul died.
It’s the story of Easter that brings Paul’s writings into focus. The problem was that Paul wrote like a philosopher writing a treatise. So it’s fair to say that without the story of Easter as told by gospel writers, there’d be no such thing as the religion called Christianity.
The Easter story was told first by the gospel writer Mark, based on Paul’s writings. Mark’s work then, is the foundational document for Easter. Other gospel writers took from him events as he outlined them (some historical, some not), put their own spin on them, and reached similar yet differing conclusions. For that reason, we’ll refer to parts of Mark’s Easter story – from Palm Sunday, to Good Friday, to Easter Saturday, to Easter Day. Even so, it won’t surprise you that this will not be a traditional Easter liturgy.
I would imagine that from childhood, most of us have memories of Easter – rituals, music, readings, imagery – from Palm Sunday through Holy Week, to Good Friday and then to Easter Day. Those kinds of memories have shaped Christian understandings of Jesus.
Perhaps surprisingly though, Easter is not just about Jesus. Equally, perhaps even more so, it raises questions about God. What ideas about God are behind the traditional Easter events? There’ll be opportunity to talk about that later this afternoon. But we’ll proceed through this liturgy with an essential question in mind: Who was the God of Easter for Jesus?
No doubt Jesus knew he risked horrific death – if he promoted ideas opposed to the godship of Caesar. And that’s precisely what his teaching is about – overturning the power of top-down hierarchical society and giving first place to the poor and downtrodden. On the other hand, Paul’s proclamation of Jesus as the Saviour Christ was primarily concerned with the resurrection of the dead ‘in Christ’ – meaning life after death – a far safer topic in the Roman empire!
Jesus was in a very different situation from Paul’s. From his entry into Jerusalem until his execution, Jesus travelled a dark and dangerous road. Our question is: what kind of God did he believe went with him?
Relying on Paul, the church traditionally says it was the God who orchestrated the whole thing – who gave Jesus no choice but to go on to an agonizing death – so he could be raised from death and everyone would know he was the Christ, the literal Son of God – eventually to be known as the second person of the triune God.
So what? What good would that do for the people of planet Earth? Certainly not much at all, for non-believers in Christ the Saviour. From its earliest time the church was interested only in people who agreed with its teaching about Jesus as the Christ. The reward for those people would be a visa for heaven. For everyone else – the church offered nothing – except perhaps, hell and damnation. Paul’s writings include nothing about Jesus’ message of love for the world, only Paul’s focus on the death and resurrection of ‘Christ’. The climax of the gospels is also the resurrection of Christ, not Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven on earth.
So Easter was always guaranteed to be an exclusive Christian thing – excluding the majority of earth’s people. What kind of God would preside over that?
PP Dark Journey
Let’s be reminded now of the gathering darkness into which Jesus walked. He went into Jerusalem with friends, but essentially he walked only with his God.
Audio – Vivaldi’s Adagio Molto.
(Green cloth on table, with leafy branches and little wooden donkey)
PP Palm Sunday – what was Jesus’ motivation?
Mark 11: 7-10: Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
What happened to the palms? Mark just calls them ‘leafy branches’. Never mind. Whether Jesus arrived in Jerusalem at Passover time or months before that, at the time of the Festival of Booths, when palm branches are waved, is nowhere near as important as why he went to Jerusalem in the first place. After all, he was entering the lions’ den – the jurisdiction of the Temple leadership. Most importantly, he was walking into the seat of Roman power in Judea. So what was he doing there? What did he bring with him that was worth risking death? Not just any death, but the worst kind of death depraved Roman authorities could dream up.
Jesus’ motivation must surely have stemmed from the kind of God he had come to know throughout his life. In everything we know about Jesus of Nazareth, and in everything we know of what he taught, lie the clues to his motivation on what we call Palm Sunday. Quite simply, Jesus stood up and spoke out of love for humanity, on behalf of God, whom he had come to recognise as Love. He did it for love. He inspired countless people to do likewise.
Let’s consider four of those who have followed Jesus into dangerous places. They knew what Jesus was doing two thousand years ago. They loved the kind of God he loved. Each in their own way, they followed Jesus to the utmost.
PP Bonhoeffer – ‘we are not to simply bandage the wounds’
First, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who tried to rid the world of Adolf Hitler. Bonhoeffer did not just feel sorry for people hounded to death by the Nazis. He tried to do something to end the suffering. Attempting to assassinate Hitler put Bonhoeffer in harm’s way. He was hanged by Gestapo thugs. He knew that could happen. He did it for love.
PP Kayla Mueller – God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine
Second, Kayla Mueller. Young Kayla left her home in the US to become a human rights worker. In 2012 she went to Syria with an organisation called ‘Support for life’. She was captured by IS. After reportedly undergoing unspeakable atrocities for over two years, Kayla’s body was found. She was only 27. Her motivation for going there? In a letter to her father, she said, “Some people find God in church. I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine.” She did it for love.
PP Martin Luther King – ‘everything Hitler did in Germany was legal’
And third, Martin Luther King. King knew he put thorns in the side of the establishment when he stood up for the human rights of black Americans. He opposed laws that unjustly favoured white Americans. He endured prison, danger, dreadful insults, and eventually death, at the hands of hatred. But let’s remember that he did it for love of white people too – that they would find their best non-violent selves when the option of violence was removed from the civil rights movement. He followed the non-violent teachings of Jesus. He did it for love.
PP Archbishop Oscar Romero.
Oscar Romero was Archbishop of El Salvador (in Spanish, “The Republic of the Saviour”). He crusaded boldly against social inequality and atrocities perpetuated by the state, and was a marked man. On the night of March 25th, 1980 (38 years ago last night), Archbishop Romero was standing at the altar in a hospital chapel when a gunman broke in and shot him dead. No one has ever been prosecuted, the assassin having been an agent of the state. Oscar Romero did what he did out of love.
PP Seats of power
Seats of unjust power were not confined only to ancient times – they are all around us even now. Take a moment of silence to consider what it means to follow Jesus’ example in our age.
(removal of the green cloth, and placement of cross on black cloth)
PP Good Friday – why did Jesus risk this?
Mark 16: 20-24: After mocking Jesus, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
The multiple crosses in this image are deliberate. They remind us that Jesus’ execution was not unique. Thousands of unfortunates were nailed or tied to pieces of rough timber until they died. This was standard practice in the Roman empire if the authorities believed someone was opposed to the power of Rome. Jesus would have known exactly how crucifixion was done and how dreadfully and slowly the victims died. After all, he came from the Galilee where many rebels against Roman brutality and injustice originated. They advocated the violent way of trying to overcome the Roman occupation. There can be little doubt that some people he actually knew were crucified on roadsides, in full view of the passing public.
The difference was that Jesus resisted the power of Rome through non-violence – for love he recognised as God. All the same, in the end he was slowly and agonizingly crucified until his life went out of him.
PP He has died –
Audio – Solemn bell tolls 6 times
PPx2 ‘Jesus, you hang upon a cross’ by Shirley Erena Murray
Recommended tune: St Columba TiS523
Let’s remain seated as we sing
PP We remember Jesus’ courageous faith.
We remember Jesus’ courageous faith in the goodness of God, and in the goodness of humanity.
All: We remember him.
PP In Memoriam –
In your own time, you are invited to take your sprig of rosemary or your flower, and come forward to place it by the cross, in loving memory of Jesus and his love for all people, not just for those who believe in Christ the Saviour.
(Audio – My silent cry’– violin music – until all have sat down).
PP Easter Saturday – where was Jesus’ God?
Where was the God Jesus loved, when the devastated, grieving friends gathered together for comfort and strength, on the dark day following Jesus’ death? Did Jesus’ entreaties/searching question of God just prior to his passing continue to resound in their heads? Had God forsaken them? Did God evaporate with the death of their beloved teacher, guide and friend? Where was the God Jesus loved in the darkness of their sorrow and despair, borne of the injustice they witnessed and their apparently broken dreams? But in that time of friends gathering together perhaps they reflected on Jesus’ teaching and ministry; reminding them of the nature of God; bringing them some comfort and strength. Silence (1 min)
PP This day is the between time
This day is the between time – the dark time between death and new life.
Between what is gone and what is to come,
Between despair and hope.
Between the seed planted and the seed springing up.
Can we claim that hope in our own dark times?
Let’s sing about our fears for the world as it is now, its flooded towns and war, and our hope as followers of Jesus.
PP x 5 ‘We lay our broken world’ by Anna Briggs
Recommended tune: Carlisle TiS234
PP Walking into the light
When did the darkness begin to lift for Jesus’ friends and first followers? Was it after one day, or two? Or after a month, or a year? Mark’s story says it was on the third day after the crucifixion.
Mark 16: 1-8: When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.
We don’t know how long it took the followers to realise something vital – something absolutely vital – for their own future, and for the future of the teaching for which Jesus had died. Something woke them from their despairing sleep. Something encouraged them get up and start walking – out of the devastation and hopelessness into a new future as followers of Jesus. What was that something? We can only think it was their growing awareness that what Jesus had given them lived on! That it was indestructible!
His body no doubt was lost in the dust of Jerusalem, along with other victims of crucifixion. But his message lived on!
And so they began to walk and talk again – as he had taught them. At first they walked slowly and hesitantly, aware that what they were doing placed them in very great danger. But they went on. They walked with the God Jesus loved. They carried his message to the world.
The music we will hear now, called Psalmus Ode, is in Latin. It asks God to be with those who are walking slowly – in despair or danger.
(Audio – Psalmus Ode – first 2:30 mins)
(removal of black cloth and cross, and placement of candle on white cloth)
PP Easter Day – a day of rejoicing. Did Jesus’ God rejoice?
Easter bells – audio
And so, into the light. Traditionally, this is the day when Christians rejoice. Everyone remembers singing ‘Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son. Endless is the victory thou o’er death hast won.’ Again, this is a Christians-only celebration. Not for anyone else – not for Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists or people of no religion. Again, we must ask whether God would rejoice in the reasons traditionally given for celebration on Easter Day. We have considered the new beginning that gradually dawned on Jesus’ original followers. But the church has called it an immediate ‘victory over death’, teaching that Jesus himself returned to life on earth, before going ‘up’ to heaven. Whichever way we may see that story of what is known as the resurrection, again there is a concentration on life after death for believers in Christ the Saviour. That comes ahead of and often in place of, Jesus’ determination to make life on earth for all people, the best it can be. To accomplish that, Jesus had a message for everyone.
PP Jesus told the world
Jesus told the world what the world thought unbelievable – that God is kind, humble, compassionate, forgiving, just, non-violent, peaceful, faithful and enduring.
Jesus discovered that the God of what we call Easter has a name –
that name is Love.
PP Where does this leave us?
Is it time for seeds of loving action to gather their strength?
Is it time for taking hold of love and walking the talk?
We will pray this three-part prayer together.
PP Spirit of life
Spirit of life, we are thankful for the earth and sky,
For all that sustains and nourishes us on this planet.
PP Spirit of peace
Spirit of peace, we are grateful for inner stillness and times of thoughtful reflection that nurture and shape us.
PP Spirit who is love
Spirit who is Love, we are grateful for Jesus, who spoke words of love and lived the way of compassion.
He showed us how to challenge the forces of evil.
PP We light this candle in gratitude for Jesus
Candle is lit in silence.
Silence (1 min)
PPx3 God is love, let heaven adore him. Tune: Abbot’s Leigh
This is one of the few hymns that actually states: ‘God is love’.
So it’s a natural. It’s one of the best Easter Day hymns we could sing.
Let’s all stand and sing it!
PPx4 Blessing for Easter
A blessing for Easter.
(PP = powerpoint slides)
As author of this liturgy I give permission for it to be used by groups to make available a meaningful observance of Easter
for non-traditional/progressive Christians.
I cannot share the powerpoint slides as some of the images are subject to copyright. That applies also to words of hymns indicated in the script and to the words of a poem that I have read as a Blessing for Easter.
Other blessings can be substituted.
Lorraine Parkinson, April 2022