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Lighting a candle in the dark: What does Easter mean for our troubled times? – ABC Religion & Ethics

Autor: ABC Religion Ethics

Our world seems particularly precarious at the moment — with rising geo-political tensions, economic hardship, environmental catastrophe, multi-theatre wars, democratic disarray, and cultural turbulence. For many people, reading the news or opening up our social media feeds feels like crawling from one disaster to another.

However tempting it might seem to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by anxiety or to give in to apathetic fatalism, these are not the only two responses to our troubled times. The Christian hope is that despite the clash of civilisations, amidst terror and trauma, between fear and misfortune, God’s goodness finds its way into our lives when we grasp it by faith.

The good news that Easter celebrates is that God’s redemptive reign, what Jesus and the apostles called the “kingdom of God”, breaks into the world through Jesus’s death for our reconciliation, and his resurrection gives us a foretaste of new life in a creation one-day to be healed of its weariness and wounds.

The kingdom is about God’s rescue and restoration of the entire creation as worked out in the context of Israel’s covenantal history and God’s action in the person and work of Jesus. In other words, God’s kingdom is neither a timeless and abstract ideal nor the literal meltdown of the space-time universe. Rather, the kingdom of God refers to “the action of the covenant God, within Israel’s history, to restore her fortunes, to bring to an end the bitter period of exile, and to defeat, through her, the evil that ruled the whole world”.

If that is true — that the light of God’s love has shone into this world, even through the grotesque violence of crucifixion — then neither death, nor tyranny, nor evil has to be accepted as invincible or inevitable. If, as the Hebrew prophet Isaiah said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; light has shined on those who lived in a land of darkness” (Isaiah 9:2), then we are entitled to be discontent with any darkness that lingers too long. Instead, we can light a candle rather than cower in the dark.

The good news Christians celebrate at Easter is premised on the belief that God is King, that God has appointed Jesus as the King of kings and Lord of lords, and that the church’s vocation is to build for the kingdom as an anticipation of the day when God pacifies the powers of our present darkness and reconciles all things to himself. This kingdom vocation is not only a matter of what the church says to the secular world, but is also what the church does within and for the sake of the world.

“On earth as it is in heaven”

Jesus’s message was that God was becoming king in and through his work — his preaching, his healings, and even by his death on the cross. The first followers of Jesus, after his resurrection and through a transformed understanding of his teaching, declared that the rebellious powers who stood opposed to God’s just designs had been and were being defeated. Thereafter, creation was in the process of being healed and a new people — Jews and Gentiles together — were being redeemed and united in a renewed creation through the gift of God’s Spirit.

For those in the early church, “the kingdom of God” was never a matter of going to heaven. It was a way of summarising what God had embryonically established in Jesus, the Spirit-led work that God was doing among them in the present, and what God would establish in the fullness of time. It was this sense of God’s kingdom, as something already anticipated, being carried forward, yet still hoped for, that defined the early church as a “kingdom” movement. Not a kingdom in the sense of an earthly empire or an ephemeral spiritual state, but as a vision and vocation for faithful action that works to bring God’s kingship over every facet of human life.

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Those who put their trust in King Jesus are called, then, to participate in and promote God’s kingdom on earth. As such, they must refocus and redouble their efforts to enact this kingdom-project. To make it “on earth as it is in heaven” as Jesus famously taught in his celebrated prayer (Matthew 6:10). The kingdom of God is the imperative that drives the church’s evangelistic preaching and its virtues, and compels people to reorder their lives according to the symbols and story of Jesus as the crucified, risen, and exalted king.

Followers of Jesus act in faith, hope, and love in the present, offering their lives as a living sacrifice to our exalted Lord by their service to others, whether in spiritual succour, through deeds of charity, or by promoting a common good. By doing so, they prepare this sin-cursed and war-torn earth to receive the reign of God on the day when heaven and earth are married together. Believers are, by their kingdom-labours, trying to sow seeds of love in spiritual deserts, feed the hungry, speak up against injustices, for in so doing they curate creation for the day when God will “fill all things in every way” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Kingdom come

In order to achieve this vision, those committed to Jesus’s kingship need more than ever to recover their kingdom vocation. For our days are mired in one tragedy after another, truth has become tribalised, despots seem undefeatable, democracies appear endemically defective, and masses of men and women have dulled their senses into moral apathy by giving themselves over to the mind-numbing frivolity of their iDevices.

Instead of pessimism that all resistance to a tsunami of despair and disorder is futile, Easter is a time to be reminded that now is the day to step out in faith, because Jesus is king, and his kingdom will have no end. The powerful may find him their conqueror and the weak and downtrodden can consider him their champion.

Such a kingdom, strange as it may sound to our ears, is something we are called to promote and anticipate in the here-and-now. No one can manufacture the kingdom by themselves. However, by proclaiming the grace and mercy of God, as much as by speaking truth to power or undertaking risky tasks for the unwanted, we set up a billboard of what such a world will look like when the kingdom finally appears in all its beauty and fullness.

Rev. Dr Michael Bird is Deputy Principal and Lecturer in New Testament at Ridley College in Melbourne.

N.T. Wright is Research Professor Emeritus of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews and Senior Research Fellow at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. He is the author of more than 80 books, including The New Testament for Everyone, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, The Day the Revolution Began, Paul: A Biography, On Earth as in Heaven, and Into the Heart of Romans.

This article is adapted from N.T. Wright’s and Michael Bird’s book, Jesus and the Powers: Christian Political Witness in an Age of Totalitarian Terror and Dysfunctional Democracies.

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