‘When sins are forgiven, there is no more need to offer sacrifices.’ (Hebrews 10:18 CEV)
This year Holy Week has been marred by new terror attacks in Europe. At the most holy moment in the year, when we want to place our full attention on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, our attention has been drawn to the spectre of violence promulgated by those who want to strike fear into our hearts. What protection is there from suicide bombers who mingle in the crowd looking just like the rest of us?
As I write this Heartland news reports are saying that Islamic State has claimed responsibility, with promises of more to come. European states are responding, tightening up security measures and conducting raids on terror cells. The vast majority of Muslim people are regular, decent people who abhor extremist groups like Islamic State. The dilemma is how to protect the great majority from the harm that is inflicted by the few. It’s a struggle being played out in shopping centres, suburbs, family homes, schools, public transport and the myriad places where we transact ordinary life and should be free to engage safely despite our ethnic, cultural and religious differences.
From a faith perspective Islam, while one of the three Abrahamic religions, does not recognise the Saviour in whom Abraham believed. It knows only a god of justice and occasional mercy who remains forever in heaven. It bypasses the God of promise whom Abraham knew, the God who would love the world so much that he would give his one and only Son to be the world’s Saviour. In Islam god remains remote and impassive. Humans must strive to obey and perfect themselves spiritually and morally in the hope of making peace with Allah. Islam rejects the Christian belief in Jesus (whom it acknowledges as a prophet) as God’s Son and Saviour.
Christians, in the other hand, believe and trust in Abraham’s God of promise. God is present on earth despite our expectations to the contrary. We believe that Jesus is the Saviour for whom Abraham hoped. He walked on earth, choosing the way of the cross and healing the sins of the world as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. God certainly is in the highest heavens, just as Muslims believe, but what changes everything is his presence among us in the dust and pain of the earth. He chooses to suffer as we suffer; weep as we weep; and die as all humans must die. Because of him peace is not something we strive for but a gift he brings us in his death and resurrection.
Our God is not locked up in heaven but meets us where we are. God is in the suffering of those who were killed or wounded in Brussels. God is among us as we watch from afar and wonder what it all means. God is with us in these things just as he is in the cry of a new born infant or the joy of a marriage celebration.
With his last breath on the cross Jesus cried, ‘It is finished’. Hostility is over. Peace is established between God and humanity. Yes, for the time being we still see the old ways continuing as death and destruction seem to threaten the world. But we know these are the old way. They are not the new way of living God has opened for us, the way of peace and eternal life.
Holy Week this year has confronted us with questions of sin and death, violence and retribution, evil and its consequences. These have become more than theoretical. They are real. We feel them. As we gather in our churches we must pray for the victims, their families, friends and community. We should pray also for those who plan such attacks, that they would stop doing such evil things.
And as we enter our churches for the three days of Easter, we will know that this is the right place to be. Here God will meet us once again and guide us as we witness the betrayal, trial, suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of our Saviour. With our eyes fixed on him he makes us ready to face all the challenges of the world, whatever they are. In Jesus Christ it is finished. God has spoken and our future is secure in him.
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
25 March 2016