Sun, Apr 17, 2022

Easter is not about forgiveness!

A sermon for Easter Day

“This Easter, it has become clear…that this world needs the forgiveness, judgment, and healing that lie at the heart of the Cross of Christ”.


So said the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in his Easter message this year.

And while it’s not as overt or in-your-face as such messages go…

and the language is a little more guarded––

a little more encoded––

at its heart, it still assumes the whole “traditional” theological package: 

that God was angry at us humans because of our disobedience and rebellion––

our ‘sin’;

that we stood under God’s judgment for it…

and deserved eternal punishment;

and that God needed to punish someone

or else God’s anger couldn’t be assuaged and we couldn’t be forgiven.

It presupposes that God sent God’s Son into the world to die in our place…

and to pay the penalty that we couldn’t pay;

and so, through his death on the cross, Jesus died as our substitute…

taking the punishment that we deserved––

a blood sacrifice to appease an angry deity.

Only then, it is claimed, that God could forgive us…

and that we could have eternal life.

That, in a nutshell, is what many––

if not most of us––

have been taught and come to believe.

That, “traditionally”, is how we have made sense of Easter. 


And yet…

that whole theological schema is actually a thoroughly modern construct––

one that only began to be formulated in the Middle Ages…

and was only fully articulated in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century.

But, theologically, it doesn’t make sense.

As I have said before…

when we presuppose that God couldn’t forgive us–– 

apart from the gruesome, senseless sacrifice of Jesus––

we turn God into a hypocrite…

who expects us to forgive each other with no strings attached…

but who won’t do the same with us…

despite the fact that Jesus did just that.

We turn God into someone who doesn’t abide by basic moral precepts…

acting as if the end justifies the means…

or that two wrongs make a right.

And we effectively accuse God of the worst form of child abuse imaginable.

In reality…

such an understanding of God––

such an image of God–– 

owes much more to ancient Greek mythology…

than to anything that we find in the Bible.

But, leaving aside the fact that this doesn’t make sense theologically

such an understanding of Easter also doesn’t fit with the stories that we find in the Gospels.

Take, for example, the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke’s Gospel––

which we heard read on Good Friday morning.

Although Jesus says––

in regards to his executioners–– 

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”

that particular saying is completely absent from the earliest and most reliable manuscripts of the Gospel;

and nowhere––

through his whole Good Friday–Easter narrative––

does the author link the death and resurrection of Jesus with humanity’s forgiveness;

certainly not in a causal sense…

and not even in a consequential sense.

And nowhere in our reading this morning––

Luke’s version of the first Easter morning––

does the author suggest that Jesus’ resurrection guarantees our resurrection.


So, what does the author actually say?

How does he understand what’s going on?


As is always the case with the author of Luke’s Gospel…

there are some subtle echoes and hints about how he interprets the events…

especially through the bits that he has changed or added to his story.

In his story of Jesus’ crucifixion, he leaves out the cry of dereliction––

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”;

he adds the exchange between Jesus… 

and the two bandits who were also crucified;

he also adds, twice, that the main accusation against Jesus was “perverting the nation” or “perverting the people”;

and three times he has Jesus declared innocent––

by Pilate…

by one of the bandits…

and by the Roman centurion at the end.

But, in his narrative of Easter morning, the author simply tells the story…

with no great embellishment.

It’s seemingly devoid of any theological reflection, nuance, or inference.

And yet…

the Easter story in Luke’s Gospel needs to be heard in the context of his Good Friday story.

If Jesus is executed, supposedly, for perverting… deceiving…

or misleading the people…

and is declared to be innocent…

then the resurrection stands as God’s vindication of Jesus.

It’s a vindication of his innocence.

But, even more than that, it’s a vindication of his life and teaching…

of everything that he was…

and everything that he stood for.

In Luke’s Gospel, it’s clear that Jesus was put to death because–– 

through his life and his teaching––

he challenged the forces of evil and the powers-that-be.

He dared to proclaim God’s inclusive love, justice, and forgiveness.

And, in so doing, he offended cherished traditions and false images of God.

He confronted human violence, selfishness, and evil;

our victimisation of the weak to prop up our structures;

our need for scapegoats;

and our skewed way of living and being human.

But humanity wouldn’t––

or couldn’t––

accept what he tried to show us about who we were meant to be…

as humans––

or as children of God––

and about how we were meant to live.

So we put him to death.

The resurrection, then, was God’s vindication of Jesus.

It was God’s way of saying that our violence and victimisation…

our selfishness…

our inhumanity and evil …

would not and could not have the last word.

And Christ was raised to shock and to shame us…

so that we would change the way that we think, and live, and relate.

That, for the author of Luke’s Gospel, is what the resurrection is about.


And maybe that’s a message that we need to hear, again, in our world.


Easter cannot be selfishly or superficially reduced to a matter of ‘me and my forgiveness’;

or ‘me and my eternal salvation’;

and its purpose wasn’t to help me overcome my fear of death and presumed damnation.

In one sense, Easter is not about me at all.

And yet, in another sense, it is.

It’s about God overcoming my complicity in the evil of the world…

and my collusion with the powers-that-be––

in the way that they exercise violence and victimisation…

and maintain the structures that oppress.

It’s about God challenging my inability to imagine a different way to be human…

and what it would really mean to be a child of God.

Rather than offering me some self-centred spiritual balm––

or some selfish hope of a blissful, post-mortem survival––

it’s offering me something bigger…

something grander…

something more cosmic.

Easter is about ultimate hope.

It’s a reassurance that good will triumph over evil;

that the power of death is not greater than the power of life;

that the forces of hate, and oppression, and injustice will not, in the end, hold sway;

that God’s intention for creation will be fulfilled––

not just for me…

not just for all humanity…

but, indeed, for the whole of creation.

That is what Easter calls us to believe in…

to proclaim…

and to strive for.


Christ is risen!


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