God surprises — Easter message by Keith Garner
The Rev. Dr Keith Garner is Superintendent/CEO of Wesley Mission, Sydney. Wesley Mission is one of Australia’s largest community service and caring organisations delivering more than 120 programs with almost 1,800 staff and 3,300 volunteers. It has been working within Sydney and New South Wales since 1812.
Too often I hear Australians say ‘nothing surprises me anymore’. It invariably follows an act of unkindness.
It’s almost a sign of resignation that there is nothing left to discover in life. Nothing seems to be new or exciting. As technology advances, we seemingly have lost our sense of amazement and wonder. Some people believe we have lost our innocence. This is a good theme to address at Easter.
It can happen in relationships too. We don’t expect surprises so love languishes. And we don’t care for others because we’re resigned to the fact that we don’t expect anything in return.
Yet Australians are always surprised when a stranger helps, an elderly person is listened to with respect and interest, a young person receives guidance or mentoring, and those on the margins of our society are embraced.
Nothing could have been more evident during the recent floods when strangers surprised others during their time of desperate need. One interviewer asked, ‘Is the community still holding together?’ The answer ran along these lines, ‘Stronger than ever!’ So it is with Easter: it is a time not only of surprise, but also opportunity.
When Jesus Christ was crucified on Good Friday even his closest friends believed that was the end of his story. Those who went to his tomb on Easter Sunday found it empty. Their immediate thought was that someone had stolen his body.
It is reassuring to know that the surprise of Easter comes in the midst of people whose lives had been shattered and who weren’t expecting anything. Every day of the year Wesley Mission cares for people who have been overwhelmed to the point where they don’t expect anything at all.
Mary was one of those people, too. She was distraught at the site of the empty tomb. She had come to Jesus’ grave to vent her grief and to try to discover what had happened following the pain and trauma of Good Friday.
Mary finds the tomb open. She fears robbers or enemies have been at work. But her grief is soon turned to joy in the early morning light. The risen Lord calls her by name. She recognises his voice and call. She is not just another number: she has identity, purpose and a security that she belongs to Him. Her life is transformed. She responds with surprise but also with a glad heart. A desperate, hopeless situation is turned around. She also responds with joy and wants to tell others. Jesus surprises and calls her amidst her pain.
Today, God surprises us even in the most routine parts of life by breathing new life into what we thought were fruitless situations. We can respond and take hold of this opportunity if we open our hearts and minds to his possibilities: Jesus Christ has always been in the business of the surprise. That counts as much today as ever – we must open our lives to new hope and in that expectation we will find his promise. He will never leave or abandon us even in our darkest hours.
On behalf of the Wesley Mission family, I send my greetings for a Happy Easter.