Looking for Easter

resurrection-morning-iisIn a blog that looks to understand the nature and extent of abuse among Christians, it is not always easy to find happy endings. Many of the stories that I have encountered do not have such endings. People remain in the middle of their pain, without obvious solutions or justice. One would love to be able to say that every account had a long-lasting solution. When Jesus said ‘you now have sorrow…. I will come to you and your sorrow will be turned to joy’, we want that to be true for every suffering person. But so often that does not seem to be the reality.

It is sometimes said of Christians that they are ‘Easter people’. I am sure that there are many ways of understanding what this might mean, but I want to suggest a way that we can be Easter people in the context of the concerns of this blog. One of the things that we learn, as we go through the sombre events of Holy Week and contemplate the awful suffering that Jesus endured, is to see all this suffering in the context of the coming events of Easter. In other words, our imaginative immersion in Jesus’ suffering is made possible because of what we know is to come afterwards in the narrative. Without Easter, Jesus’ suffering and death would have no point or purpose and it would be utterly demoralising even for us to read about it. We would have to conclude that power always wins over goodness, strength defeats weakness – the bullies always triumph. But, as we all know, the story does not end on Good Friday. The gospel accounts tells us that the story has an unexpected twist. Christ rises from the dead and somehow the terrible suffering is able to be seen as a victory. The power exercised over Jesus during his Passion is seen to have no lasting hold. Death itself can be said to be defeated in some way by an act of God.

The central theme or message of Easter seems to have these two facets. The first is that Christ is the victim but at the same time we find him to be the one who, in and through his faith in God, is also victorious. He endures more in the way of abuse and torture that we can ever imagine. But he enters the place of abuse and torture willingly, confident that God was with him and would accomplish his purposes through him. We could go on to suggest various Old Testament passages that encouraged him in this hope in God, even though his humanity recoiled at the prospect of death. The final words on the Cross – ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit’ are a summing up not just of this life-long sense of trust in God, but also of his confidence that God would receive him at the moment of death.

The event we call the Resurrection is not easy to understand in all its aspects. Many Christians stumble over the details as to whether or not Jesus returned with the same physical body. Some Easter accounts in the gospels suggest this is what was believed while other passages can be read as suggesting something quite different. The important thing in all the accounts is that Jesus was in some essential way alive. He had passed through to a dimension that is beyond the grave but in a new way he was and is alive and among us. His death and resurrection is also in some way a prelude to our own death and life within eternity. ‘I go before you to prepare a place for you so that where I am, you may be also.’

The first message of Easter is then, in summary, that Jesus is the victorious victim. The second message, of particular relevance to victims and all who suffer in the world, is that we can come very close to him as our risen Lord even now. In his earthly life, it is testified that Jesus sought the company of the poor, the sick and the outcasts. Today we would add the victimised, those who receive humiliation, violence as well as the victims of prejudice. It is not so strange that we should look for the same reality to be at work in his risen life. There is an old tradition of Christian prayer popularised by St Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century which put a great emphasis on our imaginative participation in Gospel events. The individual follower of this tradition would use the mind and imagination to reconstruct the events recorded in the Gospels. In short we are enabled to meet the risen Jesus by being imaginary participants in particular episodes within his earthly life. Ignatian prayer encourages the practitioner to see the sounds, smells and textures of the Gospel event as a prelude to a personal encounter with Jesus. The point at which such an inward meeting ceases to be product of our imagination and becomes a real encounter with Jesus is not for me to define. It should be noted however that the Ignatian tradition has been followed for hundreds of years and has been a source of blessing and comfort for many. Whether we seek to meet Jesus through this actual method or through another way, the Christian tradition of prayer has always invited the faithful follower to meet the risen Jesus. The record of his earthly life shows him as the particular friend, comforter and encourager of all who have passed through pain or abuse. Of course everyone is invited to be in this place, whether or not victims, but the Gospel testimony suggests that the risen Christ has a particular longing to place his hands on those in pain and who are the victims of bullying and abuse of any kind.

Easter, the story of victimhood followed by ultimate victory, is one that should especially resonate with the abused everywhere. The Christian tradition has always allowed us to know within our hearts, not only something of the transcendent God but also the human face of God in Jesus. As I write these words, I am reminded of the prayer of Richard of Chichester which speaks of Jesus as Redeemer and Friend and Brother. May the risen Jesus be such a redeemer, friend and brother to all, but especially those who need comfort and healing in the darkness of their abuse.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

12 thoughts on “Looking for Easter

  1. Thanks Stephen, The hope of a deliverance after this suffering is something to hold on to. Sometimes sudden dark bewilders even our hopes but, where else can we go? ‘You have the words of eternal life’.
    I have just been talking to some very damaged people, (Part of the 70’s ‘Revival’), it is a strange feeling indeed that I cannot direct them back to a ‘Jesus’ whose image was broken and controlled by abuse yet, I have every confidence in the Jesus you present here in your Easter blog? Hope that makes sense? Chris

    1. Oh yes, it makes sense. The “Jesus” you were taught does not exist. Stephen’s vision is much closer to the truth. Halleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Happy Easter to you and Mary.

    1. We are trying to live a normal life, stay on track, keep going, along come these unwelcomed individuals, insinuating that they knew us (as if, they wouldn’t talk to us in the past, they were arrogant), but when they found that we could help them sell their programmes (eg ‘Healed for One Second’, ‘Messed up for Life’, etc) and their books (eg ‘Lifting the Pooh’, ‘Superglue your Mask on’), they used us to no end to promote their programmes, materials, books and businesses. We left a message for them to call return our calls, they wouldn’t, preferring instead to talk about us on air, online and on digital. Why? Its about their businesses. They didn’t care then, we wouldn’t expect them to care now. Its about lining their pockets. They had no idea, they pretended they knew us, made up gibberish (gossips) about us which are mostly untrue, miles away, twisted truth etc. Get lost! Don’t use us to sell your tabloids! We don’t need your help!

  2. We have no problem with you marketing or running your business. Just don’t do it at our expense. We don’t have a problem and don’t need your help. Just don’t force us to have a problem that you manufactured for us. Clear right off and get off our case!

    The above is not directed at you Stephen.

    1. If there are people peddling help for the abused that isn’t the real deal, this is wicked beyond belief. You keep strong.

      1. hi EA.
        A fair bit of official psychiatry and mental health care isn’t the “real deal” either….It’s good for this blog to puncture the idea that the church is a spot of pristine purity in a sea of wickedness, but let’s remember it also isn’t a cesspit of special vice unknown to the surrounding society!

        Thanks Stephen for a very good post.

        1. No o o. Granted. But isn’t there something particularly vile about those who believe in Christ behaving in this way?

          1. Of course we find it extra upsetting when Christians (or should I say “Christians”?) behave badly. I remember feeling quite distressed when a well-known and respected Anglican church leader, whose spiritual book about prayer had greatly touched me, was shown up for his poor understanding and response to dealing with abuse. On another level I was pretty annoyed when the dean of our local cathedral used a sermon about Simeon and Anna to denigrate older women in general and mock the annoying ones who hang around cathedrals in particular. But it seems Jesus himself was utterly realistic about this:

            Matthew 7.21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” 23Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”

            Note especially the little word “many” in verse 22. At the same time we shouldn’t be pointing fingers without recognising that anyone can fall into sin, and that means you and me.

              1. yes it does make a difference on every level! You are so good in always being clear on this point. Again this was exactly what Jesus taught, we have learnt it from him: the powerful should be called to account first: Mark 9.42 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me,* it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

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