WE are in the middle of the most significant week for Christians around the world. Holy or Passion Week, runs from Palm Sunday, marking the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; and Easter Sunday, which marks His resurrection.
The week began with triumph, not only biblically with Palm Sunday but with our national 7s team's victory in Hong Kong. Being infected with the "Sevens fever," even in Korea, during my sermon I spoke about the testimony that then captain and rugby legend Waisale Serevi shared live on television after winning the 2005 Rugby Sevens World Cup, and of the hymn and prayers of the team — watched by an estimated 700 million viewers around the world.
In a resounding echo, a few hours later after an amazing victory snatched out of the jaws of defeat, Serevi, coach Dere and hat-trick scoring Osea Kolinisau once again gave moving testimonies of faith and dedicated the win to the children of Fiji, many of whom had celebrated Children's Sunday in their churches.
"It's not us, its God...a lot of people doubted us coming in....it's God and His power," said Kolinisau who also said that during the half-time team-talk they were reminded to, "hope" and "keep the faith".
Between the triumph of Palm Sunday and the celebration of Easter Sunday, however, lies betrayal, arrest, torture, humiliation, the excruciating pain of crucifixion, the despair of rejection and finally death, commemorated on Good Friday. As Christians we believe that Jesus, the Christ — the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of God — died for our sins and rose again on the third day in triumph over sin and death.
Jesus had entered Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna!" (in Hebrew: "Hoshana") meaning "Save us now!" The crowd thought Jesus would come in and liberate them from Roman military occupation and oppression. The prophets had said the Messiah would come riding on a donkey, so when the people saw Jesus on that donkey, they though he was coming to lead an uprising. They thought he would ride right up to Herod's palace and sit on his throne. Then he would order the Romans out of his newly-established kingdom.
They were disappointed when he didn't. On Good Friday, the same crowds who had cheered now jeered. They had waved palms, but now they hurled insults as he carried the instrument of his death to Golgotha.
While the message of Jesus and Easter is a spiritual one, of forgiveness and freedom from sin, reconciliation and restoration of relationship with God and eternal life, there is a strong social message.
Jesus was seen as a subversive and dangerous by the leaders of religion and society in first century Palestine because he not only described a new social reality but willed it. In the midst of the despair of social, religious and political oppression, Jesus offered and continues to offer the hope of imagining an alternative society, a counter-consciousness of compassion, dignity and respect for the marginalised, of good news for the poor, empowerment for the minority, justice for all and righteousness by all.
The power of imagination is to envision what is possible in the face of what is probable. Such imagination gives hope and strengthens faith — as it did with our Sevens team in the finals on Sunday.
I often explain to my many non-Christian friends why both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, that we remember that Jesus loved us to His death and we celebrate because He rose again. Jesus' death without the resurrection is pointless, just as His resurrection without the sacrificial death on the cross is meaningless.
Jesus is died so that we might be forgiven for our sins, so that we might be reconciled to God for eternity. But the forgiveness of God through Christ doesn't come only to those who don't know what they are doing when they sin. In the mercy of God, we receive his forgiveness even when we do what we know to be wrong. God chooses to wipe away our sins, not because we have some convenient excuse, and not because we have tried hard to make up for them, but because he is a God of amazing grace, with mercies that are new every morning.
For those of us who profess to be Christians we are challenged with not only asking forgiveness from those we have wronged but also with the sometimes very difficult task of forgiving others, even when we are in the midst of suffering, oppression or still healing from physical, emotional and spiritual wounds. We are called to transform the pain and fear of wrongdoing through the healing and positivity of love.
Jesus announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God. He had revealed the love and grace of God. And he had embodied that love and grace by dying for the sin of the world, thus opening up the way for all to live under the reign of God.
The challenge for Christians, as we approach Easter, is that Jesus' victory over death means that that imagined and voiced hope of a new social reality must be realised through us. The Kingdom of God is not only "over there" it is to be manifested over here in our lives. Our faith is not just about individual spirituality but a faith lived out in community, in society.
This week every Christian is called to critically examine their faith practice and their lives. Perhaps it is an opportunity for non-Christians to do so for the latter, as these questions are related to human relationships. Are we loving our neighbour? Are we empowering the marginalised and uplifting the weak and oppressed or merely accepting the status quo? Are we daring to imagine and will a peaceful, just and compassionate society?
The lesson from our Sevens team is that even when despair seems to be overwhelming, hopeful imagination, faith in an alternative reality and love — for God, country, family, justice and or peace is the strongest motivation to make the seemingly impossible possible.
May the rest of your week and Easter weekend be blessed with the courage for hopeful imagination and the faith to persevere to make that vision a reality.
"Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity."
* Reverend JS Bhagwan is a Masters in Theology Student at the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, South Korea. The views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.