By the time I get to the days leading into Easter I expect to have read a number of articles about Christianity and the veracity of the claims about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Normally a newspaper or magazine recycles some theory that casts doubt on whether it is reasonable for Christians to believe what they do.
Last weekend I read through all the newspapers and there was hardly a mention of Easter. Actually, I need to correct that statement. Easter was mentioned a lot, but on most occasions it had nothing to do with Jesus. There were several pieces that compared the quality and prices of hot cross buns (apparently for price and quality it is hard to go past the ones at Coles!). There was quite a bit about various chocolate eggs and opinions on whether the eating of these eggs is bad for your health or not. Of course there was also a lot written about the football games that are being played on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Now, just in case you think I am being a negative ‘naysayer’ and railing against the secularisation of the Easter weekend—I quite like chocolate, really enjoy hot cross buns (especially with lots of melting butter … how can that be bad for you?), and don’t mind watching a game of footy when I get the chance (go Crows!). The thing that surprised me was the way Jesus seems to have almost fallen off our cultural radar. How come? It could just be that the crisis in Syria and the threat of global super powers facing off against each other has pushed every other concern out of the way. But I wonder if this absence says something more profound. Possibly it is an indication that Jesus and the claims of Christianity are no longer seen as either real or relevant?
In last weekend’s The Australian, Peter Craven penned a piece entitled ‘The melodrama of the Cross and Resurrection remains top of the pops’. I found it hard to work out exactly where the article was going. In many ways it accurately captured the key events and Christian understanding of the cross and resurrection. There was even clarity about the way in which the cross and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament predictions. Craven acknowledged that the events of Easter have shaped our western culture in profound ways. Easter is embedded in so much of our art and thinking. But something seemed to be missing. I think it was that, for the author of the article, Easter is just a story or account. It is not grounded in reality. He says at one point ‘… why do we celebrate this post-Jewish myth of salvation …?’
Craven expresses what I see and hear around me. People don’t think Easter is grounded in reality. Perhaps this is one of the biggest challenges for believers in a post-Christian world. One of the distinguishing features of Christianity in the plethora of world religions is that it isn’t just a philosophy or a religion of how to make your life better. Christianity is based on events that occurred in real time, real space and real history. The death and resurrection of Jesus are not revelations that someone dreamed and then wrote down. The evidence is strong that Jesus actually died in Jerusalem around 33AD and then rose again three days later. Look at one of the gospels and you will read carefully researched accounts of what actually happened. Christians believe because of facts, not myths, fables, dreams or concepts.
Of course, Easter is more than just a claim about certain facts. There are implications that follow as a result of Jesus both dying and rising from the dead—we are going to explore this as we gather at church this weekend. However, I wonder whether in twenty first century Australia we do need to emphasise once again that the basis for Christian conviction rests on verifiable evidence?