The Easter good news is, of course, eternally the same. But there is a fundamental difference between those of us who hear the Easter proclamation today and those who in Jerusalem first, heard the same message two thousand years ago.
Those who initially heard first the rumours and then the confidently proclaimed conviction that Jesus had been raised were the very ones who had actually been involved in his death, either actively as judges and accusers, or passively as
consenting bystanders. Put bluntly, they were people with blood on their hands.
"This Jesus," said the Apostle Peter in a very early Easter sermon recorded by Luke in Acts 4, "this Jesus whom you crucified, God has raised from the dead." Their very own victim was back!
Even before the truth of that claim could be checked out, it naturally sent a cold shiver down the spine of those who heard it: Had he perhaps returned to get his own back, to seek revenge, or to turn the tables on those who had sought to
dispose of him?
The Easter proclamation soon scotched any such fear. Their very own victim was said to be inexplicably alive, back from the dead ... but not as a ghost to haunt and torment them. His return from the grave was announced not with gravity but
with gladness. It was announced as good news, even for them. The very one they had condemned was back, not vindictively to condemn them, or to seek revenge, but with the proffer of salvation.
Just as Jesus had soaked up insult prior to his crucifixion and not lashed out at his critics, and just as he had turned the other cheek, steadfastly refusing to curse his accusers, so now, having suffered at their hands, the victim returns
with the marks of his crucifixion wounds on his hands, but as he always was in terms of fundamental disposition: He offers forgiveness and life, precisely to those with blood on their hands. Such is the nature of the love we call divine.
That is the nub of the first Easter proclamation two thousand years ago as we have it recorded in Acts. The resurrection is not just another mature miracle that demonstrates what God can do with matter, It is not just a "conjuring trick
with bones", as a former Bishop of Durham once so notoriously put it. Rather, Jesus re-appears as the bearer of salvation in the concrete form of acceptance and forgiveness, even for those who had wronged him.
It is in making this point that St Luke goes on to affirm, somewhat aggressively, that it is only through Jesus that salvation can come: "There is salvation in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among mortals, by
which we must be saved" (Acts 4: 12). In other words, salvation came to those in Jerusalem only via their very own victim, only through this Jesus of Nazareth whom they crucified.
Now, in the history of the Christian Church, this text has been used as the basis for making fiercely exclusive Christian claims: Only through Christ does salvation come, not through the Buddha, or through Eastern mysticism, not through Mohammed, or the Rajneesh,
or any other form of religious adherence, whether ancient or new age.
Indeed, this text and others like it have triggered often hostile and self-righteously condemning Christian attitudes with respect to the adherents of what we refer to these days as 'other religions' or of 'no religion' for that matter. Christ
may not have come to condemn the world, but his adherents have more than made up for this omission.
Each year a Commonwealth Sunday Service is held in St. George's Cathedral in Perth. It is modeled on a similar service each year in Westminster Abbey. Members of various religions represented in the nations of the Commonwealth are invited, not
to participate in some bland lowest-common-denominator observance, but to say their own particular prayers for peace. If this service happens to be televised we receive a spate of communications from angry people, often good Christian people,
born-again people, who are hell-bent on exclusion and condemnation – for, they say salvation can come from Christ and no other, save Christ alone. Christians should have no dealings with Buddhists and Moslems and Samaritans!
But alas, when St. Luke wrote that there is salvation in no-one else, save Jesus Christ alone, he was not just comparing Jesus with other alternative religious leaders and rival religious systems. Indeed, if he had a vague idea of the
existence of India at the fringes of his world, he probably had no idea of the existence of China at all, let alone of the teachings of the Buddha or Confucius -
Mohammed was, of course, yet unborn. The modern question of 'other religions' was for Luke miles away, centuries off.