BY: BRETT JONES
Terror has long been a weapon wielded by those who seek to impose their world view on others.
And when it happens to you, your family, or your people, it’s brutal and shocking. The first Easter was no exception.
It is one of the stranger appropriations across the religious world; that a belief system based on an ethic of love would adopt an instrument of execution as its central symbol. Yet, that is exactly what sits at the heart of Christian faith, the Cross, a Roman method of torture and execution that inspired fear in the detractors of its vast empire. How does a symbol of terror become a symbol of hope?
The use of crosses as a means of execution dates well before Jesus’ death over 2000 years ago in the Roman province of Judea. The most infamous of them all took place many years earlier in the wake of the revolt led by Spartacus, a Thracian gladiator who was the most well-known leader in the Third Servile War, a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic.
Six thousand survivors of the revolt captured by the legions were crucified, lining the Appian Way from Rome to Capua, an act of terror which was startling in its magnitude.
It’s precisely this reaction to acts and moments of terror which make them such an effective deterrent to those who would seek to live another way.
But there is a choice, a choice which we find in the very life and death and resurrection of Jesus, a choice we find in his teachings which will challenge us to face the anger and darkness in our own lives.
‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-44)
This is a subversive message when everything in us screams for justice, maybe even revenge; when anger overflows into dismissal and hatred of others.
One of Jesus’ followers, a former terror expert, Paul, extended Jesus’ teaching in a profound way:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
The possibility of good overcoming evil is often counter intuitive for us as we grapple with moments of horror perpetrated by what seems most naturally described as “evil”. And yet this is the way of the Cross. This is the way in which the fullest expression of our humanity blooms in the face of terror.
It’s easy to imagine Jesus finding these words in the bucolic environment of his open air teachings. It’s harder to imagine his own experience of terror at the hands of an empire balancing the possibility of local rebellion with keeping the religious elites of the time on a short leash.
But even, in this moment, Jesus lived out his love as he spoke words which echo for all of us facing our own moments of terror as victims or even perpetrators.
‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34)
At that moment, the Cross became a mirror for both the darkness of humanity and the forgiveness of God. The transformation of the cross continued in the aftermath of the crucifixion with the miracle of the empty tomb and the resurrected Jesus.
Today it is a symbol of hope that dares to say there is life beyond death, love beyond hate and hope beyond terror.
- Brett Jones, Executive member, East Auckland Ministers Association.
- The East Auckland Ministers’ Association is a network of Ministers working across the East Auckland area (encompassing Botany, Flat Bush, Howick & Pakuranga) and encompassing over 65 churches