It’s the question every parent has asked their children (some more than once!) and which generations of teachers have asked their generations of students. It’s the hottest topic in politics at the moment, with opinion ranging from the absurd to the neurotic.
It’s the question asked at the darkest moment of Jesus’ life, which many would say is the darkest moment of history. Shackled, and facing his imminent death, Jesus is interrogated by the Roman governor, who asks him, “What is the truth?”
Enlightenment and courage elude Pilate and, through fear and expedience, he sentences Jesus to a flogging, then a criminal’s death, flanked by criminals. This is the truth of power when it is challenged, the truth of every empire throughout history. Monarchs do not like the dissenting voice, and have always sought to extinguish it, by corruption or extinction. The truth which empire claims is that might is right.
And yet, across the world for the last two millennia, followers of Jesus have claimed a different truth, in which they place all their hope.
The story empire tells is that the strong don’t waste their time on the weak, that the first don’t care about the last. The empire’s narrative is rigidly controlled: the mighty don’t sacrifice themselves for those at the bottom of the heap, they are the collateral damage in every system.
Except for one.
On Friday we declare that God gave everything – all God had, including life – for all of creation, all of history, all of us. We all know the brokenness of our world. The gassing of innocents in Syria, the fracturing of relationships amongst people we love and a system which values us by how much we earn, all point to a world in need.
When we believe no one is listening and that no one cares, Jesus dies as a victim, to proclaim that God cares, each and every time someone suffers. God does more than care; when we are in our darkest moment, Jesus’ sacrifice declares that God stands with us.
The story which empire spins is that dead is dead.
The story fashioned by God in love and hope is that love is more than death. Easter is not only the cross, it is the empty grave and Jesus’ community finding new hope when they encounter the Christ, amazingly alive.
The truth which every follower of Jesus, every faith community and every church will celebrate this weekend, is that forgiveness is greater than punishment, that justice is stronger than revenge, that love overpowers hate. Death is not the last word; in Jesus Christ, the first and last word is life.