Are there any connections between Easter and ecology?
Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth, was a key participant in a new Jewish reform movement. In the face of the political oppression, religious corruption and economic exploitation of his day, his short ministry focussed on the release of those with heavy burdens, the freeing of the stigmatised and the healing of brokenness. By including the excluded, breaking social barriers and sharing acts of human kindness, he reminded those around him of God’s call to Israel to be a people of compassion and mercy, justice and peace. He also referred to people’s links to the land and the interconnectedness of Creation.
The term he used in inviting others to a more inclusive kind of society was the ‘Kingdom of God’, which translates from the Greek ‘Basileia tou Theou’ – the reign of the divine. This community, which his followers adopted, is open to all and marked by signs of forgiveness, the writing off of debts, the redistribution of resources and the care of the vulnerable. In later years it became expressed in both synagogue and church.
Furthermore, this communal living was rooted in the well-being of the sacred land which upholds all life. This realm of loving relationships extends also to the lilies of the fields and the birds of the air, to the rocky places and to green grass, to the water from the well and the fire of baptism. The covenants of the patriarchs are all-encompassing, holistic; everything is a part of the God’s holy Earth.
Yet this message stood in stark contrast to the Judaeo-Roman culture of the first century of the Common Era (A.D.). The ruthless Roman occupation of the Middle-East had come to be accepted by those in authority – puppet kings, Temple hierarchs, tax administrators, and others who all used the situation for their own ends. In particular, the liberating God of Israel (Yahweh) was replaced by other gods and other priorities, whether the dominating imperial religion, the hard-nosed Sanhedrin council or ruthless money-lenders.
All this of course is in the background to what we now call ‘Holy Week’ – recalling Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his death and celebrated resurrection on Easter day. This man from the rural highlands of Galilee meets an extremely political end on the cross outside the urban city. His message of liberation and hope is to all intents and purposes nailed to extinction with his outstretched body in the isolation of Golgotha (the place of the skull).
Whilst others follow, the powers of Rome took the lead in crushing this man and his radical news of equality and justice for the weak and marginalised. His calling people to return to God’s ways of living are too threatening to the vested interests of his day.
Yet, whatever your views of Jesus’ resurrection narratives, what appears to be the end of the story sees a totally remarkable revival and renewal. Beyond the violence, torture, denial, rejection and treachery, hope re-emerges as the way ahead.
In the words of poet R.S Thomas, “The grave clothes of winter are still here, but the sepulchre is empty. A messenger from the tomb tells us how a stone has been rolled from the mind, and a tree lightens the darkness with its blossom”.
The core of Jesus’ experience is that Yahweh’s love is life’s most potent force – even beyond death. Just as plants regenerate in the desert dust, so this unconquerable, profound love is rediscovered in new ways through the apostles, disciples and early church. The inclusive message of this northern Jewish prophet is re-lived in the relationships of the post-Easter community, which later go on to hold goods in common, care for the weak and seek peace through justice for the nations.
So the ‘love of power’ (as seen in the ecclesiastical and political leaders or the violence of the mob) is transformed into the ‘power of love’ (through the women and men who continue to follow in the Way). And this love begins, as with Eden, in a garden (Gethsemane). The second Adam continues the work of the first – to care for the whole Earth and to sustain all life in its integrity. Two gardeners are surely thoughtful symbols for our relation with the Earth.
Maybe there is a connection between Ecology and Easter after all?
All best wishes – Martyn