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Does the resurrection of Jesus Christ have meaning for us?

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We have just celebrated what is the most important day in the Christian calendar, the day on which Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Following that unforgettable moment in Christian history, Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to spread his message led after their first mass baptism, to the birth of the Christian church. Christianity is a powerful force in different parts of the world and has and is still having a significant impact on the entire world. In his work, The Historical Figure of Jesus, the historian E.P Sanders states “Historical reconstruction is never absolutely certain, and in the case of Jesus it is sometimes highly uncertain.{{more}} Despite this, we have a good idea of the main lines of his ministry and his message. We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. Perhaps most important, we know how much he inspired his followers, who sometimes did not understand him, but who were so loyal to him that they changed history.” Jesus’ tragedy was central to Christian teaching.

I have quoted the above to emphasize the fact of the significance of last week to a community that is still overwhelmingly Christian. Paul Johnson in Jesus: A Biography from a Believer, notes “Jesus lived in a cruel, unthinking world, and his life and death formed an eloquent protest against it. He offered an alternative: …We live in a cruel world, too, one just as unthinking, though teeming with knowledge, universities, communications, expertise…” The question remains, is Jesus’ alternative still relevant?

First, let us accept that our people who claim to be Christian ensure that they go to church on Good Friday or Easter Sunday, not because they want to reflect on the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but because it has become a sort of ritual. In fact, it is even more than this, for those who do not attend church at any other time during the year seem to develop a feeling of guilt that drives them to church at this time. What must be said is that the act of going to church by itself means, I would think, very little. Do we take the time whether at home or at church to reflect on the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ?

Admittedly we live in a secular society, but with Christian underpinnings since our culture and laws are influenced by it. In a globalised world we have to accept that all those with whom we interact might not necessarily share our Christian views. We have long passed the period of the Crusades, a period of intolerance and consequently, expeditionary wars motivated by religion. We have fairly recent examples of the problems that might arise in a society where all do not share the Christian values and views. In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, the Trinity Cross award, which was instituted in 1969, was sometime around 2008 replaced, because the symbol of the cross was considered discriminatory against non-Christians. In communities that have become increasingly secular we have to be careful that we are sensitive to the beliefs and views of others. One of the things about which we are most guilty is the use of the bible and scriptures to justify everything we do and to criticise everything we dislike. What is interesting about this is that we select the passages which would suit our fancies, sometimes even providing interpretations that are highly questionable and with which others might disagree.

This issue can be seen today in the debate about homosexuality. Many are quick to jump to the Bible to push their disgust for something which they consider contrary to the word of God. As I try to follow this debate, I have, as a historian, to remind myself of a few things. The Bible was used to justify slavery, the book of Genesis in particular. Noah was said to have issued a curse on Ham’s son, Canaan and black, people or rather Africans were said to have descended from Ham and so subjected to this curse which was manifested in the form of slavery. I could well imagine that some planters and other advocates and defenders of slavery would have thought and stated that the world was coming to an end. Imagine anti-slavery advocates fighting to end slavery! How absurd!- something, which in their selective vision was grounded in the word of God. The struggle against slavery and to end discrimination was fought as a Civil Rights, issue as was the struggle for the rights of women, including the suffragettes who demanded the right to vote.

When I reflect on these two movements, that for emancipation and for the civil rights of blacks generally and women, I am concerned about those who see the struggle for the rights of homosexuals as an abomination. We grew up in a society that saw all of this as disgusting, but there are practices indulged in by many people who live among us as which we are appalled. Once the homosexual issue is raised as a Civil Rights matter, then I will not condemn it, even though I grew up believing that such practices were evil and even devilish.

So, does this have anything to do with what the Resurrection is all about? I believe it does, for Jesus’ life was about love, humility, mercy, forgiveness and hope, to quote Paul Johnson. We might be grounded in Christianity, but we live in a secular world and must realise that minorities have rights too. A democracy is flawed when it denies the rights of minorities.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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