The Scent of Liberation
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Jn.20:1-9)
In Matthew’s Gospel, when Jesus meets Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, he kisses him on the cheek and asks, ‘Friend, why are you here?’ (Mt.26:50)
Today, we might ask ourselves the same question: Friend, why are you here? What brings you here this Easter?
For most people, what brings us here is Jesus’ story. It’s the story that has intrigued and inspired countless millions over the millennia. It’s the story of love, both human and divine, and the victory of good over evil. And it’s the story of love’s triumph over sin and death, as Jesus clears our pathway to eternal life.
In one way or another, we’ve all struggled with life. We’ve all suffered pain, disappointment and death of some kind. And yet, the wonderful thing about Jesus is that by his Cross and resurrection he has conquered these things. He has broken their power over us. He has shown us that God is alive and well, and that he truly cares for us.
But if Jesus really has conquered sin and death, then why are so many people, including good Christians, still struggling with them?
Two theologians, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) of Britain and Anders Nygren (1890-1978) of Sweden, asked themselves this same question many years ago. They both noticed important parallels between life in New Testament times and the situation of ordinary people during the Second World War. And it occurred to them that the victory Jesus won over sin through his death and resurrection is very much like a country being liberated from Nazi control.
In the 1940s, the Nazis were a foreign occupying power and a sinister and menacing presence in many countries. People feared them and suffered under them, and for years they could do nothing about them.
This is very much like people today living under the oppressive weight of sin and death.
But then comes the electrifying news: there has been a far-off battle, and somehow it has turned the tide of the war. A new phase has developed, and the occupying power is in disarray. Its backbone has been broken. In the course of time, the Nazis will be driven out of every corner of Europe. But in the meantime, they are still present in the occupied country.
In one sense, the situation has not changed, but in another, more important sense, the situation has changed totally. People can smell victory and liberation in the air, and this results in a huge psychological change.
The Nazis might still be around, and the people might still be suffering under their rule, but deep down the people are getting excited. They have a real sense that something good is on its way. They have hope.
A similar story is told of a man who had been held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore. In 1945, there was an astonishing change in the camp’s atmosphere when one of the prisoners (who owned a short-wave radio) heard about the collapse of the Japanese war effort.
Although everyone in the camp was still locked up, they knew that their enemy had been beaten. It would only be a matter of time before they were released. And those prisoners began to laugh and cry, as if they were already free.
The Second World War ended in Europe about a year after bridgeheads were established in Normandy in June 1944. But in those final twelve months, the course of the war had changed and so had the hearts and minds of the captive people.
And so it is with us today. In one sense, victory has not yet come; but in another sense, it already has.
Because of Jesus, sin and death no longer have the final word. They no longer have power over our eternal souls. However, this doesn’t mean that they have disappeared, because for now death is still a natural part of life, and there’s still so much sin around.
But remember this: Jesus’ resurrection points to God’s total victory over all evil, sin and death. Their backbone has been broken; they’re on the run, and that means we can now live in the light of the coming victory.
We know that the long night of their oppression will one day end. [i] It’s only a matter of time.
So, let’s give thanks and celebrate!
Christ is risen!
[i] Alister E McGrath, In the Light of Victory, in Arnold, Augustine et al, Bread and Wine, Plough Publishing House, NY, 2003, 271-275.