Making the Easter message relevant

Youths act out Jesus carrying his cross. The author says the meaning of Easter has to be relevant to the individual in terms of adressing his or her questions, problems and anxieties. Failing to do this, we simply are handing on a tradition or custom unco

Youths act out Jesus carrying his cross. The author says the meaning of Easter has to be relevant to the individual in terms of adressing his or her questions, problems and anxieties. Failing to do this, we simply are handing on a tradition or custom unco

PEACE be with you!

Dear friends, peace is Jesus’ immediate greeting to the disciples on the first Easter Sunday.

Easter is the Christian festival that brings together Jesus’ life, suffering, death, resurrection and Pentecost (coming down of the Holy Spirit). Easter began with the disciples’ experience of Jesus, who is peace.

Interpreting Easter

for today’s audience

The New Testament records the disciples’ Easter experience and therefore, Easter comes to us as an interpretation of the disciples’ experience.

However, developments in theology and social sciences have contributed to a new way of understanding and interpreting fundamental religious experiences. Contemporary theologians hold that peoples’ lived experience, their problems and questions, aspirations and anxieties, are essential elements for understanding God and religious festivals.

Traditionally, theologians and preachers thought their task was to apply the teachings of the Bible to our situation.

However, theologians are now increasingly aware that no one is in a position to rediscover either the author’s mind and the community he is writing to. The task of interpreting a religious text or festival (in this case Easter), lies not in the historical meaning but rather how a particular religious festival addresses today’s human questions, problems, aspirations and anxieties.

Failing to do this, we shall simply be handing on a tradition or custom which is unconnected to today’s human experience. Sooner or later, people will discard these religious festivals and rituals because they are no longer relevant and meaningful to their everyday life. What then is the meaning of Easter to Fijian people today?

Jesus’ disciples’ Easter-experience took place in the context of Jewish peoples’ historical suffering, oppression and hope for liberation. Ever since Israel was exiled in Babylon (587BC), Jews were attacked, conquered, and oppressed.

Theologian Johanne Metz described Israel as a “landscape of cries”. Through the prophets, Israel looked forward to their liberation when God would send a messiah.

Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles, suffering, death and resurrection gave his disciples new meaning, liberation and hope.

They experienced Jesus as the Christ, the anointed one, the messiah, the liberator, and Son of God. In Jesus they found life that was worth living and dying for.

Hence, Easter is not only about the dead body of Jesus coming back to life. It was more about how the disciples took on the spirit, teachings and principles of Jesus. Easter charged them with a mission for the whole world. This is the first Easter experience.

Easter will be meaningful to Fijians today when it addresses the cries of the poor and suffering, cries of the Earth and victims of natural disasters, and peoples’ experiences of oppression and domination.

Recently our news media have highlighted the suffering of women, girls and children as victims of sexual violence. Fiji is experiencing an increasing number of sex-related crimes. Most of the victims of sexual violence are women and girls.

The Fiji National Service Delivery Protocol for Responding to Cases of Gender based Violence records that 64 per cent of Fijian women have been abused by husbands or partners. This figure is double the global average.

A Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre study shows 80 per cent of Fijian women witnessed some form of violence. Sixty-six per cent women were physically abused, half of these were repeatedly abused, and 26 per cent were abused while pregnant.

Rape tops the list of crimes the High Court has to deal with.

High Court judge Justice Salesi Temo states our High Court is becoming a “rape court”. Sexual violence, especially rape, is a very serious crime in Fiji.

Fijian society urgently needs to be made aware of and protect the dignity of women, girls and children. How can Easter bring hope and liberation to women, girls and children who are victims of sexual violence?

Role of women in church’s

response to violence

against women and children

All the four gospels of the New Testament, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, record that Jesus appeared first to women (Mary Magdalene, Joana, Mary the mother of James, and Salome) after his resurrection. These women had followed Jesus from a distance as he was led to Calvary to be crucified. They saw the soldiers physically abuse Jesus.

Professor David Tombs’ study Silent No More: Sexual Violence in Conflict as a Challenge to the Worldwide Church argues that sexual violence would have been part of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. Prof Tombs states:

“First, Jesus’ crucifixion was a form of sexual humiliation since a key part of crucifixion was to strip the victim and display the victim in public.

“Second, this enforced nakedness and humiliation needs to be named as ‘sexual abuse’ if its significance is to be understood. Third, this sexual abuse was not accidental or incidental to crucifixion as a form of torture and execution, but rather it was intentional and integral, and crucifixion should therefore be recognised as a form of sexual torture and sexual violence.”

The women had witnessed Jesus as a victim of physical as well sexual abuse. They kept vigil, hearing Jesus cry and groan with pain until his last breath. Meanwhile, the male disciples, except for John, had fled after Jesus was arrested.

On the first Easter Sunday, the women’s sorrow and grief were turned into surprise, puzzlement and confusion when the risen Jesus appeared to them. The women were the first to experience Jesus’ resurrection.

Women were the first messengers of the resurrection. Jesus gave the women a privileged place in his mission. He gave them a dignity and respect that they had not often experienced.

The role of women as witnessed to Jesus’ torture, death and resurrection gives us new perspectives for the church’s response to violence against women, girls and children and make Easter meaningful to them.

Fiji is a patriarchal society where women are seen and treated as second class. We in the Christian churches need to change our cultural attitudes. Our churches should uphold the dignity of women for they are created in the image and likeness of God. We should no longer be silent in the face of sexual abuse and prophetically denounce it as evil. Finally, the churches should provide practical care for victims of abuse.

Only a victim understands what it is to be a victim. Jesus was a victim of physical and sexual abuse. He understands what it is to be a victim.

Likewise, women are more attuned to the experiences of victims. Women are our hope in helping the church respond to violence and sexual abuse against women, girls and children. Healing the wounds of violence is an Easter-resurrection experience.

In the Archdiocese of Suva, we have created a ministry called “Women at the Well” to support victims of sexual violence. This ministry will conduct an awareness seminar on sexual violence on April 7 at the Saint Joseph’s Secondary School hall. We will also conduct the same seminar in the North and West regions.

Let us bring Easter peace to those who most need it. May Jesus bring healing, peace and joy to you.

* The views expressed are not of this newspaper