What could Easter mean?

By John Hill, C.Ss.R.

John Hill is a Redemptorist priest, living in Melbourne. He spent his early years as a Redemptorist in youth ministry. He then began post-graduate study in biblical studies. At present he is a lecturer in the department of Biblical Studies at Yarra Theological Union, Box Hill. He is also a member of the pastoral team at the John Pierce Centre for the Deaf in Melbourne.

At Easter we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but I often wonder - what does it mean? We know that through his resurrection, Jesus came to set us free, but from what? As one of the readings at the Easter Vigil says, Jesus died “to free us from the slavery of sin” (Rom 6:6). What does that mean? When was I ever a “slave of sin”? Yes, I might have done wrong in my life, and committed some sins, but was I ever a slave of sin? 

The resurrection of Jesus means that now the most powerful force at work in our world is ... the power of God

When Saint Paul wrote the letter to the Romans and talked there about sin, he meant something different to what we understand by the word “sin”. He was not referring to individual acts of wrongdoing. For him, sin was a power that controlled not just individuals, but the whole of creation. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus the whole of our world would be captive to the power of evil.

The resurrection of Jesus means that now the most powerful force at work in our world is not the power of evil, but the power of God which we call the Holy Spirit. We might find that hard to believe as we look around our world and see war, poverty and injustice. We might think of suicide bombers, sexual abuse in the church, and recent events like the genocide in Rwanda where hundreds of thousands of people were murdered.

How do we explain these events if Easter means the triumph of the power of good? As bad as they are, these events give us only fragmentary glimpses of what a world would be like if the power of evil was dominant. In a world where the power of God was absent, these terrible events would be thought of as normal, and we would not judge them as evil and wrong. But because in our world the power of God is the ruling force, we are rightly horrified by events like genocide, and know that they are terribly wrong. 

Without Easter we would have a world of total darkness

Our celebration of liberation is a rather unusual one. It is different from the liberation that someone like Nelson Mandela experienced. When he was released from prison twenty years ago, he really knew that something had changed. When apartheid came to an end in South Africa, people who had been oppressed really appreciated their new freedom.

For us it is different, because we have never known a world controlled by the power of sin. If we look at the evil things that happen in our world, or own up to whatever wrong we have done, then we can start to appreciate the difference Easter makes. Without Easter we would have a world of total darkness where love, hope and justice would be completely absent.