The hope of peace at Easter

“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

Eleanor Roosevelt

We are living in a world of increased nationalism, tribalism and polarisation. The traditional media, social media, and even our democratic system divide us into tribes: labour or conservative, left or right, traditional or progressive. Yet, we instinctively know that the truth is rarely found at the extremes but somewhere toward the middle, in a wise mix of both. The world is not black and white but complex, diverse and colourful.

One heart-breaking effect of increasing nationalism is the number of wars and conflicts currently raging around the world, endless cycles of revenge and retaliation. War is always hell. Cities are flattened, widows are made, children are killed, and with every bomb, a new generation of terrorists/freedom fighters is created – ‘round and ‘round we go, when will it stop? Nobody knows. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Revenge tennis.

As one ageing rock band sang recently. 

“If you live by the sword, gonna die by the sword,
If you live by the gun, you’re gonna die by the gun.
If you live for revenge, gonna feel the backlash,
If you look to be cruel to be cruel, gonna bite you in the ass.”

As Jesus said, if his disciples don’t speak up, even the Stones will cry out.

The world cannot be rectified by war; it is only ruined by it.  We need a way to take the violence out of circulation. Someone needs to absorb the wrongs and the hurt – and not strike back.

This is the message of Easter.

The message of hope found in the Christian story of Easter is that God himself sees the cyclical violence and sin of the world and offers us a way out by breaking the cycle of violence. The cross is where God absorbs violence and sin and recycles it into forgiveness.   Jesus was killed by an unholy triumvirate of religious, civil and military power who all saw him as a threat.  He absorbed the very worst form of torture humankind has invented and breathed forgiveness on his torturers.

Easter is where the love of God achieves its greatest expression and where the nature/character of God is most fully revealed.  The crucifixion is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive. The crucifixion is what God in Christ endures as he forgives. When Jesus prayed for forgiveness from the cross, he revealed God’s nature as forgiving, co-suffering love.  

But what about Justice? I hear you. Justice must be a part of the picture. Those who commit atrocities should be held to account. But justice should be restorative, not retributive.

Retributive justice is about finding a punishment that fits the crime. Restorative justice is about finding a way to right the wrong and (if possible) heal the damage and restore the relationship. 

The justice of God is not retributive justice. In the end, retributive justice changes nothing. It is simply legally sanctioned revenge. The cross is the supreme example of restorative justice – the only thing God will call just is reconciling, healing and setting the world right. 

As the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” (2 Corinthians 5:19) 

In the story of Easter, God in Jesus took upon himself the worst of the sin and violence of the world – to death. And he did so breathing forgiveness. He refused to return violence with violence. He took the suffering upon himself (experiencing Hell) and demonstrated a different, restorative way to live and love. In the end, revenge is self-destruction; only love wins.

It seems to me that, far from dismissing this ancient story, we need the wisdom and hope of Easter today more than ever.

Happy Easter.

Rev Charlie Ingram
Bessels Green Baptist Church

Image: Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash