Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and believe it or not, Easter celebrates a man who died a criminal’s death and became the foundation for what are commonly called ‘Australian Values’.
When I was a young boy, visiting my grandmother in Edinburgh, Scotland, she used to tease me by saying, “You and your family are descended from convicts.” I deeply resented her comments because as a five year old boy, I did not yet know that Australia, in its founding, was populated by criminals.
Interestingly, while the vast majority of our early settlers were convicts, most of our early explorers were men of faith. James Cook, Charles Stuart, Matthew Flinders, Edward John Eyre and the indomitable Pedro Fernandez De Quiros, who in 1606 gave Australia her name, Australia del Espiritu Santo.
The preamble to the Australian Constitution contains the words, “Humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God”. For centuries, to speak of Western civilisation was to speak of Christian civilisation. The two were in many ways synonymous.
To paraphrase the words of the Canberra Declaration: “The values that we have cherished and sought to strengthen are in large measure founded on the Judeo-Christian belief system. The many freedoms, advantages, opportunities, values and liberties which characterise the West, including Australia, owe much to the growth of Christianity with its inherent belief in the dignity of the human person as created in the image of God and the code of behaviour that flows from this belief… These values are being attacked and undermined on many fronts, by dedicated and articulate proponents of different views.”
Niall Ferguson, in his book the “Civilization: The West and the Rest”, carries a quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in which he tries to account for the success of the West, to date. He said:
“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.
“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had.
“Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.
“But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.
“The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”
Perhaps it’s time to take a lesson from the Chinese government, who spent decades persecuting Christians, and discover again the values that made Australia great.
But where do these values come from?
The Sydney Morning Herald, marking 200 years of Easter celebrations since the settlement of Australia in 1788, said it most eloquently.
“The Easter faith has fashioned the basic convictions of most Australians. It reveals a God whose supreme characteristic is love, who gives dignity and worth to every person, whose face is set against exploitation and oppression and who is on the side of justice, freedom and peace…
The Easter story gathers to a climax the concept of self-giving which runs through the whole life of Jesus. He gave Himself in the service of His neighbours until at the end He gave all He had, His life. On the cross He died as He lived, pouring out His life for others…
The crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus provide a solid basis for hope. In the cross of Jesus, evil at its worst and goodness at its best met and, when the struggle was over, though Jesus died, goodness was victorious…
So, what is it about the Easter message that has such an attraction for a nation descended from convicts? What has this got to do with our Australian Values? Perhaps we could look at recent information that has come to light about Ned Kelly who was one Australia’s most famous criminals and folk heroes to find out.
Ned Kelly was no pushover and directly or indirectly was responsible for the death of 9 men including three policemen. Arguably Australia’s most notorious criminal.
Author Kerry Medway in his book on the Life of Ned Kelly tells a story of Kelly’s last days. Dr John Singleton, a prison Doctor who tended Ned Kelly’s wounds, shared the story of Jesus, “the friend of sinners”, with Ned Kelly. By all accounts Kelly was deeply moved, so much so that on the night before he was due to be executed he sang “The Sweet By and By”, a popular hymn, so loud, that the whole prison could hear.
“There’s a land that is fairer than day, And by faith we can see it afar; For the Father waits over the way to prepare us a dwelling place there. In the sweet by and by, We shall meet on that beautiful shore; In the sweet by and by, We shall meet on that beautiful shore.”
Johnny Cash sings the song that Ned Kelly sang on the night before his execution
Having said that, Ned Kelly, as a criminal, would have been in good company with Jesus, who was attacked for being “a friend of sinners.” Jesus did not die alone, but was crucified between two criminals. In Luke it says,
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It would seem, after all, that Convict Kelly had a personal encounter with the Friend of Sinners just like the thief on the cross. Christianity, based wholly and solely on the death of Christ on the cross, is what Australian values are built on.
I have personally performed music in 20 prisons across Australia and I am very familiar with prison culture and etiquette. Overt statements about faith or anything else for that matter are avoided in normal prison life. So when Ned sang that hymn the night before he hanged, he was making a statement that went something like, “I don’t care what you think. I have met Jesus, He has forgiven me because He is a friend of sinners and when I leave this place I will be with Him just like the thief on the cross.”
Firstly, tell the Easter story to your children along with Ned Kelly’s story of hope. There is a bit of Ned in all of us. We are all fallen, and we all need the Hope that comes from heaven. This is the crux of the Easter story.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to pray the prayer at the end of the blog.
Yours for a happy Easter and beyond
PS: Check out the information on the Dads4Kids Train the Trainer Summit, 26 – 28 May if you have a passion to help Australia’s fathers.
Thank you for the wonder of the Easter story.
It’s great news to hear that Ned Kelly got across the line with You.
If You can forgive someone like Ned
I should definitely be in the race too.
Help me admit my failings to those I love
and even to those I don’t,
but most of all, forgive me
for all those things I have done wrong.
You gave Yourself, on the Cross
That I might be set free from all my sin and failings.
So Thank You for coming into my life afresh this Easter.
Change me from the inside out,
and breathe Your breath on me.