March 2020 Pulse
During the Easter service of the Orthodox Church, the ‘Troparion’ is sung after the celebrant announces the resurrection of Christ at the door of the church and intones the blessing to the Holy Trinity.
Incorporating Psalm 68, the Church declares:
Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before his face!
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
Easter celebrates the victory of God over every force that opposes His will and seeks to thwart His purposes. Paul puts this across arrestingly in Colossians when he says that Christ has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).
Easter also underscores the fact that for Christians, redemption can never be seen only as a personal and private matter. The death and resurrection of Christ does not concern the salvation only of those who put their faith in Him.
It extends to the whole creation. It penetrates the very essence of this fallen reality and will transform it into the new creation when God’s kingdom is fully consummated with the return of our Saviour.
Herein lies the politics of Easter. Easter addresses, in the most radical way, every aspect of human life – the economic, political, and social – and interrogates everything that our culture has fashioned.
The Church that declares ‘Christ is risen!’ and is shaped by its union with the resurrected Lord must be truly counter-cultural – a community that is in many ways out of sync with the world it inhabits.
As the body of the resurrected Christ, the Church resides in this world but is never an indistinguishable part of it (John 15:19). Hence, due to the strangeness of the Church, society’s relationship with it is always marked by unease and disquiet, if not open hostility.
As people of the resurrection, the Church can be said to be a new form of human life – it offers a glimpse of humanity made new. The Church embodies a new and radical kind of human sociality that is not characterised by the divisions, boundaries, and bigotries that plague our fractured world, but energised instead by forgiveness, peace-making, patience, love, and truth-telling.
In its attractive strangeness, the Church reminds the world that reality as it is, is not the original intention of its Creator. The presence of the Church should cause the world to yearn to become what it was meant to be.
As the community of the resurrected Lord, the Church can never turn a blind eye to the evil in the world and the suffering it inflicts. In the service of the resurrected Christ, the Church will go to the world’s darkest places to bring the message of love and peace, and to rescue those who are trapped in the jaws of evil.
The Church must oppose every form of injustice that crushes the weak and the poor and exalts the mighty. As the ambassadors of the resurrected Christ, people of the Church must also expose and oppose all manifestations of idolatry that accord the state or civil authority power to which they have no rightful claim.
To declare ‘Christ is risen!’ is to relativise all authorities and sovereignties against the absolute authority and sovereignty of God.
The Church will stand against the forces of darkness and oppose all forms of human wickedness until every knee is bowed and every tongue confesses the Lordship of the risen Christ.
But the Church does not battle evil with missiles and bazookas.
The politics of Easter requires the Church to see every political and social engagement as a form of self-emptying, or ‘kenosis’. For the eternal Son of God emptied himself and came in the form of a servant to die on the cursed tree for the world (Philippians 2:7).
The Church therefore serves the world not by asserting itself, but by dispossessing itself of its own agendas and its own interests.
The Church fights against evil not by violence or force, but by love. It does not wield the sword but carries the cross of humility and suffering, following our Lord.
For the Church knows that love is more powerful than hatred. And because of Easter, we know that love will have the last word.
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor for the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.