Today is the Catholic Easter celebration but a message that relates to all of us was shared by the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney, Michael Stead.
In his Easter Day address at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Bishop Michael Stead said that the world is celebrating like it is 2019 – with some signs of normality.
“Have we won against COVID?,” he asked. “It is too soon to declare victory. But for Christians like me, we declare victory every Easter,” he continued.
The Bishop then went o to analyse the Easter narrative, as it is the culmination of God’s rescue plan for Planet Earth.
“Jesus, the perfect son of God, enters our imperfect world to repair our broken relationship with God,” he explained before using a victory of the Ancient Greeks against the Persians as an example of the grace each Easter brings.
“I admit that the victory that Christ won at Easter is an unlikely one. It reminds me of the conquest the soldiers of Athens won against the might of the Persian army. In 490 BC, Persia had conquered most of the known world, and they turned their attention to Greece, and in particular to the little nation-state of Athens. The Persians arrived by ship on the east coast of Greece, and set up camp at the plain of Marathon. The Athenian army marched out to meet them, and although the Persians outnumbered them three to one, they won the battle decisively.
The Athenian general sent his fastest runner, a man named Pheidippides, to take the good news back to the city of Athens. Pheidippides ran the entire distance from Marathon to Athens, more than 40 kilometres. This story was the inspiration for the modern marathon.
Pheidippides reached the steps of the city of Athens, but could not run any further. He collapsed to the ground, and with his last breath he panted out the Greek word for “victory”, then he died. A Greek would pronounce the verb “ni-kair” (to rhyme with “hair”), though if you were an American marketing guru looking to name a shoe company, you would say “nike”.
That picture – of Pheidippides gasping out the one word “victory” and then dying – is similar to the paradoxical victory cry of Jesus on the cross. As he died, Jesus cried out “It is finished”. That is three words in English, but only one word (tetelestai) in Greek. The word does not mean “finished” in the sense of “used up”, nor “over”, but the sense of “completed” and “fulfilled”. Jesus’ final words are the victory declaration “Done!“
What appears to be utter defeat – dying in ignominy and agony – is demonstrated three days later to be in fact a mighty victory, when Jesus rose from the dead. By his death on the cross, Jesus conquered sin and death, and then rose victorious from the grave to prove it. His resurrection demonstrates that there is a future beyond this broken and decaying world, and that Jesus himself is the key to our participation in the life of the world to come.
The victory Christ won was not for himself alone. He won this victory for our sake – his victory was to give us our victory. He died to break the power of sin and death over us, to restore the broken relationship that stands as a barrier between us and eternal life with our heavenly Father.
Jesus’ victory cry – his “Nike”, if you like – is the antithesis of the modern motto. Nike’s motto is “Just do it”. The victory cry of Jesus – “It is finished” – is a bold declaration that his saving work is “Done”.
The message of the Christian gospel is not “Just do it!” We do not (and cannot) win the victory for ourselves and bridge the gap to God by our own efforts. The message is instead “Done!” Jesus has won the victory for us and offers victory to all who come to him seeking it.
In a year when COVID-19 has made us acutely aware of our own frailty and mortality, Easter testifies to us, like a walk through the valley of the shadow of death, that there is hope beyond the death and decay of this world. The resurrection of Jesus both prefigures and guarantees our own resurrection. Jesus offers us a life beyond death that we were always meant for – eternal life lived in a perfect world in perfect bodies in a perfect relationship with God and others.
That is why Easter is the greatest day in the Christian calendar. We celebrate that the victory that Christ has won for us. Easter is Victory Day for the Christian.”