On my shelves is a book by Cornelius Plantinga entitled Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: a Breviary of Sin. Plantinga observes that people of our day don't like to talk about sin. We talk about problems, about maladjustments, about mistakes and weaknesses, but sin -- that's language that doesn't flow easily across our lips. "Where sin is concerned," writes Plantinga, "people mumble now."
Yet we see it on every hand. There is an Earl Jones who soft-talks hundreds of investors out of millions of their retirement savings while portraying himself as a friend. Public figures who make claims about issues they know to be untrue. Someone who walks into the house across the street and steals a purse off the counter while the owner is in her basement. Casinos that draw large crowds into their facilities with the clear knowledge that many of these will be gambling away money needed to meet family expenses.
In family settings, at workplaces, in bars and on the street, someone abuses someone else sexually. Many in positions of power or wealth underpay workers knowing full well they cannot live on their wages. Many will carelessly abuse and despoil the environment.
Plantinga quotes a famous Wall Street Journal editorial of the 1990s, which said, "The United States has a drug problem and a high school sex problem and a welfare problem and an AIDS problem and a rape problem. None of this will go away until more people in positions of responsibility are willing to come forward and explain, in frankly moral terms, that some of the things people do nowadays are wrong." The editorialist could have been writing about Canada.
This Easter weekend we have arrived at the end of the season of Lent, we've mourned the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday, and now we celebrate the message of an empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Lent and Easter bring together two important themes, themes both of repentance and hope. Isn't this a message we need?
Many Christians will be reminding themselves this weekend that both individually and corporately we need to rediscover what it means to repent of our wrongdoing. And just as importantly, Easter will affirm to them that a new life is truly possible, with the resurrection offering the basis for the hope that such a life can be theirs.
Easter represents a host of paradoxes. It is the Christian affirmation that God exists and loved the world so much he would die for it. He would allow his own creation to humiliate and brutalize Jesus to death on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. Yet this death would become God's means of reconciling his creation to himself. That death would not be the end. Instead, it became the prelude to something new and promising, rooted in claims that Jesus had been raised bodily from the dead. It was an extraordinary claim, yet embraced ultimately by his immediate followers and countless millions afterward.
The very first sermon reported by a New Testament writer some weeks after the events of Easter was preached by the Apostle Peter to a huge crowd in Jerusalem. He concluded his address with these words: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." Jesus' death and resurrection were understood as a way of addressing our sinfulness. They was meant to remove the barriers that our sins created between God and us.
Of all people, Christians should be the ones most aware of their capacity to sin and need for repentance. Too often, that has not been the case. This Easter, many Roman Catholics will be attending services with a sense of grief for the sins of sexual abuse that have occurred within the walls of the church's institutions. All of us have times and places where we know we might repent. We know the harms done to Canada's aboriginal people. We know the places where workers are still exploited. We know when we've given dishonest value for a payment. We know when we've taken advantage unjustly of someone else. We know where our selfishness and pride have cause pain to others. Every sin begs for repentance.
To repent literally means to change one's mind. It means to begin to see our actions in another light and to grieve it. It means to turn away from it. As a Catholic meditation puts it, "This change of mind necessarily entails a profound interior conversion in which we firmly turn from a worldly darkness and embrace a new way of life as Christ's disciples. It is a union of heart, mind and soul to the Person of Christ."
It is to be so moved by God's love for a broken humanity that we begin to see ourselves and our behaviour in an entirely new light. It is identification with the suffering and risen Christ.
To live in a world such as ours means being aware as perhaps never before of the many ways in which our actions can affect others, for good or for ill. They can be others very close to us or they may be far off in a Haiti or Chile or Cameroon or Afghanistan. Each of us has the capacity to do good or evil. Some choices are not easily discerned. Nor are our motives always clear, even to ourselves.
But where a willingness to repent our sins is present, light appears upon our way. We are placed upon a path that leads to increasing clarity about the good. It is a path accompanied and empowered by the risen Christ.
Harold Jantz is Mennonite journalist and former editor.