In Cairo this morning, Coptic Christians will be declaring, alongside us, “Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!” But if I were a Christian in Cairo this Easter morning that would feel like a hollow declaration for, as we know, on Palm Sunday, would-be Islamic freedom fighters saw fit to indiscriminately detonate suicide bombs inside and just outside two significant Christian churches, killing and maiming dozens.
Have no doubt, Christians are targets for humiliation and destruction in many parts of the world. The very earliest days of the fledgling Church saw Christians targeted as bringers of change and dissent. They threatened the status quo with a message of love, service to the poor and an offer of reconciliation with God.
The world is a religious place. Atheists with their air of intellectual superiority will not change that fact one jot nor tittle. Unfortunately, all religions can work to unite people around malevolent purpose. They can all be used to give clear answers to the big questions, Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? and How do I get there?
Christianity centres its answers to those questions around the most evolved view of God there has ever been. It would take a Jesus Christ to invent a Jesus Christ, one scholar said. Tom Wright in his huge scholarly work on the history of the idea of “resurrection” finds nothing to equate with the resurrection of Jesus as God’s way of atoning for sin and reconciling man to God. It is unique in it’s artistry, perfection, sophistication.
The wonder of Christianity is, despite obvious exceptions, that it has been the greatest source of unification, peacemaking and stability in the history of the world. Rodney Stark in his major work The Rise of Christianity points out that the existence of modern Europe and all it has achieved in education, government, commerce, economics and law is attributable to the influence of the teachings of Jesus on the Church and society.
Christianity binds and builds. The Prince of Peace tends to bring peace when he is invited to rule and reign. The development of centres of theological thought, called universities, enabled Jesus’ teaching to be studied, critiqued and to evolve into sustaining codes and systems, strengthening and supporting society. Dioceses and provinces meant there was accountable leadership that could be critiqued and where belief could be welcomingly questioned and refined and right behaviour demanded.
Sadly, the Coptic Christians were attacked by Islamic extremists. I want Islam to be moderate and kind but it often feels heavy, dangerous, oppressive. Where does one go to find the definitive view on Allah? Where is the theological centre of the faith? Today it is impossible to get a straight answer to what we can expect from Islam? Moderates tell us Islam is peace-loving but we see otherwise. I want to find the loving centre but where is it?
Perhaps we could say the same about the eastern and western church or Protestant and Catholic streams of faith. So, is there any real difference?
There is one huge fundamental difference, Jesus! We can all look at the avarice, manipulation and capriciousness of man and explain why religious systems can be manipulated to suit human ends. But we cannot look at Jesus and justify the sort of behaviour we saw in Cairo on Palm Sunday. Whether it is a commission into child abuse, a crusade, an inquisition or Irish rebellion, we cannot see that behaviour in Jesus’ life or teaching.
The way of Jesus distinguishes the true Christian.
This is why Christians, this and every Easter, must stand together as one, eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the victorious risen one who gave himself up to human evil, tricking it by swallowing it, defeating it on the cross, rising above it, to produce the way of salvation for all.
Jesus is risen. He is uniquely risen – risen in hearts open to him, risen till he comes again to right all these interminable wrongs. Do not despair, he is risen indeed!
Happy Easter, Malcolm.