Just over fifty years ago the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote one of the most influential books of theology of the twentieth century. Into an age in which the Christian faith had become closely identified with power, with triumph, with overcoming the foe – whether in the military conflicts of the wars from which the world was still recovering, or the emerging triumphalism of the new capitalist west, the so-called Christian nations celebrated victory as if it were their birthright, as if it were the one true mark of the presence of God.
Moltmann insisted that at the heart of the Christian faith, the great visual symbol of the faith, lay the cross. That the most shocking, distinctive, uniquely Christian descriptions of God was that our God was, and is, The Crucified God – which he took for the title of his book.
In the human power struggle which culminated in the crucifixion of Jesus, God is not found in the victor, but in the defeated one; God is not found in the military, political, or religious forces which held sway, but in the one dying as a common criminal on a hill called “The Skull” outside the city.
Moltmann challenges us never to identify our faith with the triumph of our systems.
That, in a way, is the message of Good Friday.
That God identifies with us not just in victory, not just in triumph, but in loss and suffering, in pain and in defeat. That the God who took on humanity in the miracle and mystery of the incarnation did not just take on the good, did not just take on humanity as it should be, but took on its reality.
That God identifies with the lost, the broken, the persecuted, the suffering.
That the crucified God enters into our darkness and our defeat, even our death.
But the tagline for our service today is not ‘Focus on Jesus, the Crucified one”.
Because today is not Friday.
Today is Sunday.
And today we focus not on Jesus crucified, but on Jesus risen.
We don’t forget Good Friday – we never forget that our God is the crucified God – but we don’t stay there either.
Because on Good Friday, love was defeated.
On Good Friday, realpolitik triumphed over idealism, self-interest over generosity of spirit, fear over hope.
On Good Friday, human power had its moment.
And most people, most of the time, live as if Good Friday was the defining story of the world. As if Jesus’ life was noble but naïve; his death on the cross a meaningless gesture; his life of love only proved that power, wealth, and influence are what make the real world go round, that hatred and violence and the very practical application of human power get the final world.
That’s the story told by the world around us. You play by the rules of the world. You keep score the way the world does – by numbers, by dollars, by followers, by likes, by votes, by influence, by victories.
If you choose to play a different game, you get excluded, pushed out, left behind. You can only do good by being good at the way the world works.
That’s where the myth of redemptive violence comes from – the idea that is core to some much popular culture that the guys win by being better at violence than the bad guys.
The rebels triumph over the empire by blowing things up.
But that is not the story we live in.
Because Jesus refused to live by the rules of the world, and early on Sunday morning, the mystery of Easter unfolds before us.
All the brokenness of the world had descended upon Jesus, battered him, broken him, killed him: but he was alive.
Death had been overturned,
and hope had returned from despair.
And love wins.
And the story is changed.
On Easter Sunday the resurrection declares that it is the love of God – the creative love that spoke the universe into being; the redemptive love that became flesh and dwelt among us; the resurrection love that overturned death and hate and violence – that these are the things that lie at the core of creation.
And we are invited into a new story, a new game played by a different set of rules.
The story of Good Friday tells us that whatever we might do, death brings it all to an end: the mystery of the resurrection says death ends nothing.
The story of Good Friday declared that we live in a universe devoid of meaning, in which the material struggle to survive and prosper is all that we can ever know. The mystery of the resurrection insists our lives have meaning far beyond ourselves, that there is a purpose, a direction, to creation.
Good Friday tells us that the powers of the world will always crush the individual: the resurrection says that the world is changed by those who insist on living as they are called by God, not by those who simply know how to play the game better than most.
Good Friday tells us that love is a dangerous path: the resurrection agrees – but says we can take the risk of living lives of reckless love; of giving ourselves for others.
Good Friday tells us that violence and anger can tear us from those we love: the resurrection says that reconciliation can be a reality in our relationships; that no breakdown in relationships is ever entirely beyond hope.
The mystery of Easter, of love undefeated, asks us the question: which story do we live in?
Do we live in a world defined by power, or a world shaped by love.
Does this generous love of God – this love which treats others, whoever they are, wherever they come from, as God’s children; this love which pours itself out in creativity, in generosity of giving, in seeking reconciliation, in the struggle for justice – does this love form the core, the heart, of our lives?
Do we live lives bubbling over with a love that knows no bounds, a love which brings healing and reconciliation, peace and justice and beauty into our communities, that protects the wonder of creation and holds its hands out, its arms open, to all?
As we stand here today in the light of the resurrection, in the story of the resurrection, in the power of God’s love, what’s stopping us?
We can be those people, whose love changes the world.