Evangelical and ecumenical church leaders across the nation and globe agreed that in Easter 2004, Christians should maintain what the world so often lacks – hope and faith in the face of adversity – by holding onto the paradoxical love of the risen Lord.
"There's a lot going on in our world that is destructive and you don't have to look very far to see that with Iraq, 9/11 and Bali,” said Anglican Archbishop Phillip Aspinall on April 9, 2004. "Even at a very personal level with violence in the streets and bullying in playgrounds and the breakdown in relationships – this happens everywhere, all the time."
However, said Aspinall, if people looked more closely, they could find a paradoxical world of goodness, generosity and grace, as delivered by the cross and resurrection of Christ.
"You see all those things when you look at the cross of Jesus Christ too and what it says to us is that though it looks like it's weaker and it looks like it loses out to violence, that undercurrent of goodness and gentleness and love and generosity is actually in the end stronger and wins."
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Samuel Kobia, agreed, as he emphasized the goodness of Christ in his Easter message.
“In the midst of so many atrocities overtly committed by the powers of sin and death, we praise God because our Lord’s passion and resurrection allow God to enter forcefully everywhere there is human pain and transform it into a source of hope and life,” said Kobia. “In the midst of so many acts of injustice and violence which disfigure human beings and creation, we praise God because in Christ’s resurrection darkness is reversed by light, death by life, hatred by reconciliation, sin by forgiveness, the reign of the evil by the reign of Christ.”
The Reverend Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA, shared similar thoughts in his Easter message.
“The love of God that we experience in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the most powerful thing in the entire world,” said Kirkpatrick. “It is this reality that gives us the strength to overcome the evil and travail of the world and to live as people of faith, hope, and love. May the resurrection of Christ bring a special joy to your life this Easter, and may it renew our church.”
“We celebrate in the resurrection the triumph of suffering love for the redemption of the world. Evil and violence do not have the last say. The final and decisive word is the love of God, which is the ultimate power in the universe,” he continued.
While keeping in mind the same paradoxical teachings of the cross, Christian evangelicals also noted a great opportunity this Easter to share those teachings with others through the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” The movie, both criticized and praised for its violent depiction of the last 12 hours of Christ’s life, has successfully enlivened the debate about the story of Christ and its spiritual elements to the general audience.
"Once a person has seen The Passion, he will celebrate Easter with far more awareness of what crucifixion did to Jesus," said Thor Madsen, interim academic dean at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. "His suffering was unbearable, and yet the historical reality was far worse than an R-rated film could portray. The Passion also helps us to see why, according to Paul, the message of the cross was foolishness to those who are perishing. We would not guess that a crucified man could be the Lord of Glory. Pagans certainly did not do so in Paul's time, and they would not do so now if criminals were routinely crucified in our public places. But the Holy Spirit empowers us to see that the slain Lamb of God is worthy of all power and praise."
Malcom Yarnell, assistant dean for theological studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas agreed that ‘The Passion’ opened great opportunities for evangelism and reflection.
“Easter has, in recent years, become increasingly secularized. Like Christmas, this holiday has been commercially standardized and serves as an occasion for more buying and selling," said Yarnell. "Fortunately, however, for many people, Easter 2004 is different. Rather than focusing on eggs and bunnies, Americans have had their minds turned toward the cross.”
"For some people, their interest in the Gospel is because God has used the movie, The Passion, to cryptically pronounce the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Yarnell continued.
However, Yarnell noted, “The Passion” has not been the only outlet to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice.
“God has used other means to introduce His grace,” said Yarnell as he recounted that his neighbors across the street “have started attending [church] with us. Neither of our families has seen the movie. We have simply witnessed of Christ and tried to be good neighbors. Christians do not have to wait for a movie to share the Gospel."
With or without the movie, many Christian leaders said they plan to share the death and the resurrection of Christ with their congregants during this season.
“Those whose interest in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ goes beyond sensitivity to the cultural pulse beat will gather on Easter Sunday not to see moving pictures of Jim Caviezel but rather to hear the Good News of a risen Messiah proclaimed from Holy Writ,” said Scott Swain, assistant professor of theology at the South Western Baptist Theological Seminary.
“While some things have changed this Easter season, some will remain the same,” said Swain. “Though they may not see Him, their living hope -- birthed by a risen Lord and illumined by the light of Scripture -- will once again abound with 'joy inexpressible and full of glory' (1 Peter 1:8).”
"This Easter, more than ever, we are reminded of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in our behalf. He died and was raised from the dead to give us life," said Octavio J. Esqueda, assistant professor of administration and foundations of education at Southwestern. "We live not just because He died, but for Him who lives. Jesus' death provided the direction we need for our lives as 2 Corinthians 5:15 declares, 'and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.'"
The leader of the U.S.’s largest ecumenical body agreed that this Easter, Christians nationwide should remind not only themselves, but also others of the hope that comes from Christ’s paradoxical love.
“It is precisely this understanding — that God is with us in our most vulnerable moments — that is at the heart of the Gospel that we proclaim and which enables us to witness to the universal love of God,” said Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches during his Easter message. “How else to provide comfort to the millions suffering from war in the Middle East? How else to offer hope to the millions suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa? How else to bring joy to the millions suffering from starvation throughout the world?”
“Certainly, we should work in every possible physical way to bring peace, healing and sustenance to all people. Our calling requires it. But as Christians, we also have a faith to share, and it is only by comprehending with fear and amazement the paradox of Christ’s death that we can genuinely share with others the fruit of his resurrection.”