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What Has Easter To Do With Ethics?

The premier annual Christian feast is upon us again. I picked up a bright, shiny Christian leaflet the other day. The banner immediately caught my attention. “We are at a moral crossroad; it’s time to demonstrate the true meaning of Easter,” the flyer declared, advertising a nationwide event scheduled for Easter.

It looked cheerful and hopeful, but it failed to explain which moral crossroad the sponsor had in mind. I guess I was supposed to know what it was all about. Perhaps I go to the wrong churche, subscribe to the wrong media or read the wrong bits of the Bible.

But linking moral crossroads with the public celebration of Easter in the flyer got me thinking: What has Easter to do with ethics?

In a word, everything–if we’re thinking Christian ethics.

The Easter story is the foundational story of Christianity. As we accept what God did for us in Christ and identify with Jesus in his death and resurrection, God grants us a new life of freedom, assurance and hope. This new life is profoundly shaped by our obedience to Jesus. But what does such a life look like?

New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright puts it as well as anyone:

“Jesus … calls us to share in his work of drawing out and dealing with the evil of the world; by loving our neighbors, both immediate and far-off, with the strong love that sent him to the cross; and by working out the implications of that love in our own vocations, whatever they may be, in our social and political action, in our relationships (and particularly our marriages and families), and in our caring for those in our midst who need the healing and restoring love of God most deeply.

“We are called, as the people who claim the crucified Jesus as our Lord, to seek out the pain of the world, and, in prayer, in patient hard work, in listening, in healing, in announcing the Kingdom of this Jesus by every means possible, to take that pain into ourselves and give it over to Jesus himself, so that the world may be healed.…

“With the cross as the underlying story of our lives, validated by the resurrection and then implemented by the fire of the Holy Spirit, we can have the confidence to take on the world with the sovereign love of God.”

The great Gospel events–the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus–are the foundation of the Christian faith. But Christianity is more than assent to certain doctrines, or even participation in a particular faith community.

To be genuinely called a Christian–which is about as high an honor and as demanding a responsibility as one could imagine–is to surrender to the Lordship of Jesus and to shape our lives in radical obedience to his will and words.

That necessitates getting our hands dirty in the cesspools of this world, identifying with people not at all like ourselves, going without a coat or a meal or a second mortgage when situations demand it, taking on issues that seem beyond us and problems that appear insurmountable, and becoming more and more like the Lord whose name (and whose grace) we have accepted.

Do you have the confidence to “take on the world with the sovereign love of God”? If you’re doubtful, you might just find (or rediscover!) that confidence and love this Easter, as you gather with the faithful to celebrate the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who calls each one of us to follow him into the unformed and unfathomed future.

And, speaking of taking on the world with the sovereign love of God, I conclude this Easter reflection with an excerpt from the Easter message of Dr Ross Clifford, the national president of the Baptist Union of Australia (who is, coincidentally, my boss), which I had a hand in drafting:

“This year is the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain, the culmination of a long campaign of Christian social justice by William Wilberforce. Twenty-one years earlier, Governor Arthur Phillip, launching his vision for the new colony of New South Wales, declared that ‘there can be no slavery in a free land, and consequently no slaves.’

“We give thanks to God for a slavery-free Australia, and for the end of institutional injustice elsewhere that degraded the bodies and crushed the spirits of so many innocent persons.

“But the moral blight of slavery continues in other forms. Modern slavery is a booming international trade with up to 27 million victims worldwide. Human trafficking is the third largest source of income for organized crime, exceeded only by arms and drug trafficking, in a market valued at $32 billion. Men, women and children are trafficked into prostitution, forced labor, military service, domestic service, forced adoption and forced marriage.

“Consumers should avoid purchasing goods and services produced by slave labor such as chocolate made with coca from parts of West Africa, and some carpets, rugs and restaurant foods. In addition, in subtle ways, many who appear free are slaves to legalism, consumerism, unjust employment regimes, and practices that accelerate climate change.

“I call on the federal government to step up efforts to end human trafficking in our region, and to support anti-slavery campaigns by Christian human rights and aid agencies such as World Vision.

“When Jesus frees us from our spiritual bonds, he empowers us to share the good news of freedom with others, and to help break all the chains that bind them. The Easter story profoundly and symbolically proclaims freedom from everything that holds us back from fulfilling our purpose and destiny.

“At Easter, Baptists throughout Australia reflect on the great Gospel story of freedom from slavery to sin, and find spiritual renewal for the journey ahead. This Easter, two hundred years after the abolition of slavery, let us celebrate the victory achieved through the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Let us commit ourselves to action that abolishes slavery to sin and frees people everywhere to enjoy the liberty of a vibrant relationship with the risen Jesus. And let us commit ourselves to action that opposes social injustice and encourages people everywhere to adopt values and principles that honor the risen Jesus.”

Happy Easter to all.

Rod Benson is director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College in Sydney, Australia.