Easter reminds us of our responsibilities to the planet
As somebody who has spent most of my life as a churchgoing person, year in year out, the Easter story can sometimes seem almost too familiar. The time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday can seem too short, too mechanical, too inevitable, like a clock ticking down. The assurance of resurrection can feel all too glib, too much like going through the motions.
Our gospel text for the second Sunday of Easter was the appearance of the risen Jesus to the disciples and to Thomas in the gospel of John. Having come to Mary of Magdala, beside herself with grief outside of the tomb, Jesus appears to the disciples, who had abandoned him at his trial and crucifixion and were now hiding away behind locked doors. Thomas wasn’t there, and won’t believe it until he can touch Jesus’ wounds with his own hands. In a re-enactment of the scene, Jesus arrives among them once more, prepared to submit to Thomas’ examination of his wounds.
This Easter, I was reminded just how unexpected the experience of meeting the risen Christ was in the lives of those first disciples. How unexpected, and how much the new believers were convicted to action. Mary of Magdala, having seen and touched Jesus, shares the news with others. The disciples who cowered away in fear are enveloped in the deep peace of God, receive the Spirit – the breath of new life, and are sent out from behind their locked doors into ministry in the world. As for Thomas, the tradition has it that he went on to be a zealous missionary. He travelled to India to spread the faith, baptizing new believers, building new churches, ordaining leaders.
Late last year, at the UN climate change negotiations in Paris, the nations of the world committed to hold the increase in global temperatures to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels and to try to keep it to 1.5 degrees. In many ways, it is hard to know what to make of agreement. It is unexpected, especially given poor outcomes from previous rounds of negotiations – most famously the Copenhagen summit in 2009. But when 1.5 degrees is already all but locked in due to past emissions, and when fossil fuel extraction continues apace, it seems too little to late – it would have been a good agreement for 20 years ago, as some commentators have pointed out. Now it can seem like an empty gesture, a mockery.
There is another way to look at it though. That this target was agreed is in no small part due to the campaigning of people from small island states, who are already deeply affected by climate change. On top of being buffeted by extreme weather, they face the effects of saltwater incursion and flooding due to rising seas. For years these people, who bear little responsibility for the causes of climate change, have raised their voices in protest in the international arena, and demanded that the high greenhouse gas emitters turn around their emissions and support those countries and communities who are most affected by their historical actions.
Last month I had the privilege of meeting with Maina Talia. Maina is the Climate Change Program Manager with the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu). This is a position which is supported by UnitingWorld as a part of its work with churches partners across the Pacific to inspire hope and action based on biblical teaching, train pastoral carers and counsellors for survivors of extreme weather events, equip communities to plan for adaptation and resettlement, and advocate for climate justice.
Tuvalu is a tiny low-lying island nation in the South Pacific that faces uninhabitability within a generation. Maina is six years into the role, and he shared with me some of the challenges and of the work, and what he has been learning. I was struck that Maina faces the story of death and resurrection daily – working with resilient people who face an existential threat – to their land, their culture, their way of life, and for many, to their faith in a God who has “promised never again to flood the earth”.
There is a risk that cynicism from the sidelines stifles the action that is needed to effectively respond to the plight faced by the Pacific Islands.
In John’s gospel, to “believe” in God, is not about an intellectual assent to some proposition, but to entrust ourselves to and deeply abide in the God who is love. It is not about a shallow optimism that denies the realities of life and the challenges of our current situation. This kind of “belief” sees us through grief and loss, opens us to the experience of new life, and inspires us to action – including action for climate justice. The core message of John is the desire that all might have life in its fullness. That includes all those people, and creatures, who are on the frontlines of climate change.
To support Maina Talia and UnitingWorld’s climate change work in the Pacific, visit: https://www.unitingworld.org.au/pacificchange
Miriam Pepper is the Uniting Earth Ministry Consultant with the Synod of NSW and ACT
Photo courtesy of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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