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CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: The Bible has symbolic power of a great fantasy like Lord of the Rings

By John Dempster

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Christians celebrating on a previous Easter Sunday morning at Dores Beach.
Christians celebrating on a previous Easter Sunday morning at Dores Beach.

Some Christians wear plain crosses, symbolising Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Other Christians meditate on a crucifix, Jesus’s body still hanging there, symbolising his suffering.

This second theme – Jesus’s suffering and sense of abandonment was the focus of the Lent study group I’ve been attending.

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We’re used to religious symbolism – the cross, the bread and wine. And the very words religious people use are symbols, for they can only point to the indescribable reality of God.

I’ve been puzzling about the whole Easter story. Is it merely a fictional symbol expressing our deepest human longings? It certainly works as a symbol – of the rebirth of hope after a dark winter of hopelessness, of life beyond death. The whole messy story of the Bible, which hinges on Easter, has the symbolic power of a great fantasy like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

But as I sat in the group, I realised afresh that the Easter story, as evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus, is more than a symbol of the security we long for. Something profound took place in history.

‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus cried. He felt as though God had abandoned him, but surely God was never closer. God was present in this unique man, to the extent that in Jesus's sufferings, God also suffered.

Crucifix at St Michael and All Angels Church.
Crucifix at St Michael and All Angels Church.

At the heart of Christianity therefore is the good news that the God who is beyond our understanding, the God of crucifix and empty cross, entered the human story to set everything right.

We wonder sometimes if God exists, or if God is a cosmic sadist, playing gleeful games with earthquakes and pandemics. But here on the cross is God suffering with us, and in suffering overcoming darkness and death. God loves us, and we are freely forgiven, and the mess humanity has made will more than just be fixed, for ultimately we will enter a new earth perfect beyond all our imagining.

It is because of the death and resurrection of Jesus that the symbols work. Because of Easter, the crucifix has power, the bread and wine have power, and the words we use to express our theologies have power. Because of Easter there is hope.

Symbols are so limited in their power to explain, but the symbols are portals through which the living Christ in his limitless immensity touches our hearts.

Small wonder on Easter morning we rejoice, with a rejoicing that’s open to all, for Christ died for us all.

And even those of us who in life’s anguish may feel for a time forsaken by God know a precious truth: it’s when you are in the depths of this abandonment that God is closest to you.

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