Easter and the chance to start anew
A devotional message from Mindekirken
Pastor Anne Brit Aasland
The Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, Minneapolis
This Easter is different from all other Easters. Most churches are closed and at Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church in Minneapolis, we have online videos of all of our services as long as we have to follow the restrictions for containing the COVID-19 virus. The videos can be found at Mindekirken.net and Minderkirken YouTube.
The message of Easter has brought about and can bring about something positive for our entire existence and culture. And that which took place in Jerusalem the first Easter may have had an effect on the philosophy of the entire world.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus and his disciples found a donkey that Jesus mounted to ride into Jerusalem. But to come to Jerusalem in this way was a provocation for the established religious leaders in the city, for Jesus showed them that he was the Savior, that he was the Messiah who the Jews were waiting for, and they made plans to execute him. One of his loyal disciples, Judas, told them where they could find him, and already on the following Thursday night, Jesus was taken prisoner, and on Friday, all Jerusalem witnessed how Jesus was put forth as a criminal and sentenced to death, whipped and beaten, humiliated, spat upon, and scorned. Jesus was hung on a cross at the side of two robbers. It was a cruel, agonizing, and humiliating way to die.
Everyone saw him or had close relatives and friends who saw him hanging on the cross—helpless, naked, and dying. In the course of a short amount of time, everyone betrayed him in different ways. The disciples ran and away and hid. And just before his moment of death, he cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
What would we have done had we been there? Would we, too, have forsaken him? What else could we have done? He who had said that he had been granted all the power in heaven and on earth had shown himself to be so weak that he couldn’t even save himself! But that was exactly the point! The Son of Man suffered and died for us, and he didn’t whatsoever use any of his divine powers to endure and remain strong—no, he was victorious under the weight of the cross that he carried and which a random man had to be forced to carry for him. Jesus took our place and died for the sins of the entire world.
How many times have we not cried out in despair to ourselves: Jesus, why don’t your show how almighty you are? When you have the chance to let all people see your glory and might!! How can we believe that you have power when you don’t make use of it?
Imagine if Jesus had stood up while the entire city was gathered there, imagine if he had arranged so the all who had seen him with the crown of thorns, hanging on a cross, could have been gathered there and seen with their own eyes that he had risen! Then all those who had betrayed him would have been put to shame. Oh—what a magnificent triumph it would have been! Oh, what magnificent revenge on all of them! That would have been fantastic, if they only could have had it so good! Then everyone could have regretted their actions and felt so small—all those who had humiliated Jesus.
Yes, that is how we human beings think and how the Christian church and Christians have thought many times, that the sinners, those who fall short and have done something wrong, should be humiliated and punished. In olden times, outside many churches in Norway, there was often a pillory, a wooden framework with holes for the head and hands, where, among others, women who had been unfaithful where chained, so that people coming to church could spit on them. We don’t do things in that way any longer, but we do things in other ways. We punish and avenge and retaliate against wrong with wrong.
But Jesus did not want to stand up in triumph and humiliate all those who in their despair and dismay had betrayed him, renounced him, fled from him, or blasphemed him. No, he came to them and said: “Do not be afraid! I live and I will be with you always; go and tell this to the others.” To the apostle Peter who had sworn that he did not know Jesus, he said: “Feed my lambs, be a shepherd for my sheep, feed my sheep.”
In other words, the message of Easter shows us how the punishment is atoned and the debt is paid, so that we can begin anew. Revenge and vengeance and punishment are no longer necessary, not for God—and therefore, not for us either. We can create a more humane society of warmth, in which everyone gets a new chance—everyone can start anew—because everyone is offered forgiveness and reparation, regardless of what has happened. The message of Easter gets us to think about each other in a different way, behave differently toward each other, and we can learn to look at one another through the eyes of Jesus. Because God’s son was weak and helpless, he can understand how it is for us when we are weak and helpless.
For Paul says: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 38-39)
Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall
Anne Brit Aasland, born in Stavanger, is a theologian, social anthropologist, coach, and author. In Norway, she is based in the Bærum parish and has worked in crisis centers and prisons. She is currently serving as pastor at Mindekirken, www.mindekirken.org.