Well, it's here again! Easter - the week-end that is long enough to do something!
Occasionally, someone suggests that Easter is basically a Christian celebration and you shouldn't get a public holiday unless you believe it. It is a Christian celebration all right, but it's for all of us - no matter what our beliefs or life-styles!
The sad thing is that we have over-laid it with so much else that we forget the point of it all. Chocolate eggs and footy matches are part of our Australian society, but should never be allowed to rob us of what Easter offers to all of us.
In mid-February this year, I spent a week in Israel. It was a real eye-opener - and a very safe week to be there!
For many centuries since Roman times, the Jewish people had been scattered and persecuted. During World War II Hitler attempted to eliminate them in what we call the Holocaust. Six to seven million Jews were killed - including one-and-a-half million children.
The countries of the world - including Australia - were unwilling to welcome the refugees. They desperately needed their own homeland. In 1948 the modern state of Israel was formed - a situation that continues to cause pain for the displaced Palestinians and for the surrounding Arab nations.
The bullet-eaten facade of the Zion Gate is a reminder of the ferocious fighting that took place in 1948 when Israeli soldiers tried to relieve the besieged Jewish quarter inside the city which was then in Jordanian hands. Today Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis seem to get on together with much less friction than I imagined. Yet I am sure a feature like the Zion Gate is a reminder of "them and us", while for the Palestinians the struggle continues.
But the city of Jerusalem yields other reminders. It was here that an important show-down between "God and us" took place. This is what Easter is really all about.
Who is this man Jesus who claims to be the Son of God? We must get rid of him!
The weak Roman governor, Pilate, found Jesus innocent of any crime, but finally yielded to the will of the religious leaders of the time and had him put to death.
The record tells us, "When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him" (Luke 23.33).
Why did he die? We can easily point to the weakness of Pilate, the jealousy and anger of the religious leaders, the collusion of the crowd… Put quite simply we can say that Jesus died because of human sinfulness.
But, if Jesus was in fact the Son of God, why did he die? How was it even possible for him to die? Only by the loving purpose of God to do something about human sin - to build a bridge to sinners. The record tells us that Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23.34). None of us would have said that! Jesus died for us - taking the penalty of a sinner so that sinners can be forgiven!
That's not the end of the matter. On the third day Jesus rose from death - he is alive! Alive for us! What had seemed to his friends as the ultimate disaster turns out to be the ultimate good. The loving purpose of God is greater than deceitful human scheming.
Easter is for all of us. And it is for all the year too. In all the good things you choose to do this Easter, don't forget that it is for you!
© Peter J. Blackburn, Easter 2001