This headline appearing in The Age caught my attention, ‘Bad weather in Victoria is a “blessing” for social distancing’.
“Victoria’s Deputy Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen called the bad weather over the Easter Weekend a “great blessing” in keeping people at home.
She said there were only four reasons people should be going out: food and supplies, medical care and care giving, exercise and work or education and that police would be out in force issuing fines.
“Chocolate can be considered a food and can be sold in supermarkets, people are allowed to leave home to get food and essential supplies,” she said.”
Leaving aside the apparent argument over whether chocolate should be considered a food, there’s little disputing the fact that the weather in Melbourne has deteriorated over the Easter weekend. It’s been raining, the wind is blowing, and the Autumn cool has arrived.
It wasn’t the predictability of Melbourne’s unpredictable weather that grabbed my attention, but the intentional paradox made by Victoria’s Deputy health officer: our “bad” weather is a “blessing”.
This partnering of bad and blessing, and especially the bad being the cause of something positive, cuts against the logic of how we usually think of life. We readily assume that bad is the opposite of blessing, and with good reason.
However, Dr van Diemen’s words are a timely illustration of the paradox that belongs to Easter. The days leading up to and including Good Friday can be aptly described as bad. Indeed, it was truly horrendous. Jesus was innocent of all wrongdoing. The judge at the trial, Pontius Pilate, declared the Nazarene’s innocence. It was said that Jesus was the Son of God, a claim that Jesus himself attested to throughout his life, and yet he was now being ridiculed as a heretic and as an enemy of the State.
Good Friday was truly awful: the crucified one was the one without sin, the one who offered perfect love, kindness, and compassion, the one who didn’t play games with the rich and influential but who sought out the poor and the weak and welcomed them. The most holy man to have ever walked the earth was put to death in the most gruesome way imagined, slowly, deliberately, and to cheers and applause of those looking on.
It was bad and yet it was also a blessing because the Bible explains that Jesus’ death was not him losing, rather it was God bringing about a decisive win over death and evil. The cross recognises the naked reality of human corruption and enduring love of God who was paying the penalty in our stead. The Old Testament speaks of anyone hanging on a tree as being cursed by God. As Jesus announced in his cry of dereliction, Jesus willingly endured that curse on the cross so that we might experience the undeserved blessing of God.
Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, summaries this paradox in this way,
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
In his death, Jesus was taking the justice of God that is aimed at all the injustice in the world. The blessing or good news of Jesus’ death is that it means guilty people are forgiven, broken people can be healed.
The world cries out for the paradox: for justice and for mercy, to punish wrongdoing and yet also to forgive.
As Melbourne theologian, Dr. Michael Bird suggests,
“The proclamation of the cross sounds like folly to many, when in fact it is God’s wisdom.
What looks like powerlessness is God’s power.
What sounds like a tragedy is stunning victory. The death that looks so shameful has established God’s honor.
What appears as a cause to mourn is a cause for inexpressible joy.
God has triumphed in the cross of Jesus, and we share the triumph with him.”
Easter is the most significant of all Christian celebrations, for it marks the beginning of all Christian hope. The cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the greatest paradoxes, tensions, and hopes that we share. It is why the good news message of Jesus remains compelling and why it is cherished by so many millions of people to this day. It is not a message however for those who think highly of themselves and who count their morality or spirituality as wise and strong. This is a message for people who grasp their unworthiness before a holy God and yet who become convinced that, through that weekend in Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago, God is more forgiving than we can possibly imagine.
As we remain indoors this Easter weekend, perhaps we can take time to ponder this most astonishing of paradoxes.