The other day I heard on the radio somebody who was described as a historian of emotions. I hadn’t realised there is such a thing but found the studio discussion fascinating. Professor Thomas Dixon spoke about how emotions are shaped by the culture we live in and the language we speak. Our experience of emotions also changes over time.
He gave the example of anger in politics. There was a time when someone getting angry in a political debate would simply be ignored because they’d moved beyond reason, had given up trying to persuade through rational argument. Nowadays, it sometimes seems there’s a requirement that political views are expressed in angry terms. We’re almost at the point where the person who gets most angry is the one most likely to be listened to. We no longer look for the weight of evidence and wisdom, instead, it can seem as though the level of anger shown is the key factor in demonstrating the rightness of your position.
Sadly, I’ve noticed this increase of anger also present in the church. We don’t just disagree about something someone has said or done, we reach straightaway for the strongest possible angry language to denounce the person with whom we disagree. Our anger is so often destructive because we rush to extremes. What words do we then have left for the awful cruelties and injustices we still see in the world today?
When this subject is raised among people of faith, we often reach for the story in the Gospels where Jesus angrily ejects the traders from the Temple. But this is only one incident among many more where Jesus was provoked but refused to rise to the provocation.
When it comes to this special time of year, I’ve always been puzzled by the way the mood of Holy Week, as marked by many Christian churches in the run up to Easter, changes so quickly. Palm Sunday has Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, to the joyful greetings and adulation of the crowds who laid down palm branches to welcome him. But within a few days the mood changes completely, and after his arrest, the crowds angrily shout for his crucifixion. How fickle a crowd can be.
Good Friday is the day when that anger reaches its conclusion in the awful violence of the cross. There are, of course, different ways of speaking about the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross. One interpretation is to see all the anger that leads to hatred and violence in the world as focused on to the person of Jesus, who some followed as the Son of God.
After his crucifixion, the drama then plays out over several days, and it is with deep sadness that the women visit the tomb on Easter morning. Their sorrow turns first to shock and then disbelief and then to joy as they find that he is not there. In the days that follow, Jesus appears to them and his disciples, alive again, restored to them.
It seems that God’s response to such destructive anger is to show us that love is stronger and deeper and more enduring than all the hateful things we can throw at Jesus on the cross. The worst of anger is matched by the best of love.
As we celebrate the joy of Easter with its message of new life and hope is there something we can learn about how our anger might need to be transformed? God refuses to allow anger to win the day, for in God’s eyes love will always be stronger than anger, it is love that will win the day. Anger is so often destructive, but love creates.
So my prayer this Easter is for a little less anger and a little more love. Happy Easter.