Easter is considered the central event in Christianity. Jesus, a 1st century teacher whose followers saw in him ‘the messiah’ or ‘one who is promised to come’ to lead them out of captivity to the Romans and any oppressive powers & systems, spent his short life illustrating what the reign (or kingdom) of God is supposed to be. The reign of God is one of compassion, mercy, equality, forgiveness, and love. He was tortured and crucified as best we know, and died. He was buried. A time later (said to be 3 days) Jesus was ‘seen’ and ‘experienced’ as alive again by those closest to him, and later, others. The experience was so vivid their lives were forever changed and they could not help but proclaim the incredible story of his life and mission, which was expanded upon decades later as seen through the lens of interpreting scripture (First or Old Testament prophecy). Church councils eventually proclaimed him as the incarnation of God, the very son of God, though he never proclaimed that for himself.
There are several take-a-away notes for Christians and non-Christians alike:
- What the man taught, lived, and is reported to have said is inspiring and contains great truth. A most famous teaching, ‘love God first and love your neighbor as yourself,’ is as challenging then as now. It is an eternal call to all humanity. See Sermon on the Mount for other teachings.
- There are oppressive political systems, institutions (religious included) and those in collusion then as now. There will always be those who pose a threat to the status quo and/or seek justice. They are often victims of the system.
- Just when it seems all hope is gone, all dreams crushed, and evil has won, there is justice. We call it ‘Divine justice’ because as God raised Jesus from the dead, whether you take this literally or symbolically/metaphorically . . . death and failure is NOT the final answer. It is also not our (or their) final call. Divine justice scoops up those seen as beyond hope, those hanging by a thread or those who it appears lost.
- Those whose lives are touched by experience of the Divine/the Holy/the transcendent find their lives transformed forever. Jesus followers, saints & mystics fall into this category, but I bet you know of some or can think of some too. They’re not always Christian either and they’re not necessarily (not usually) churchy types.
- We most often are ‘found’ by the Holy or experience the transcendent when we’re not trying- it finds us. Sometimes we feel closest in serving others, in the peaks and valleys of life, in creating and experiencing art/music/nature. An awe inspiring, indescribable beauty takes us out of our own ego orbit and into magnificence and mystery.
Some Christians believe one’s entire mission is to be ‘saved’ when they die; to ‘go to heaven/paradise’ rather than ‘hell’. Their lives are lived trying to ‘get right with Jesus’.
Other Christians believe they are saved by grace through faith and it is not a matter of relentless striving for unattainable perfection; they are already accepted and forgiven. Some Christians believe they should be condemned for their sins (complicit with Adam and Eve and all humanity forward) but Jesus paid a blood sacrifice to God in their stead, for which they should spend their lives being thankful and atoning for. Some Christians believe this was a misinterpretation of scripture, which should be viewed as a tribal epic of an ancient people over centuries.
There is NOT one answer. There is NOT one Christianity, nor was there ever ONE Christian view. There is a vast difference in the beliefs, doctrines and practices of Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Lutheranism, Baptism, Methodism, Mormonism, Anglican and the 10,000 or so denominations one finds. I have a 3 part series on the differences in Christianity you can find in the content section listing.
You will find a similar dynamic in every religious system. Not one Buddhism (Mahayana, Tibetan, Theravada, Zen, Land etc.); not one Islam (Sunni, Shiite, Amaddiya, Sufi etc.); not one Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist, Secular etc.); not one Hinduism -and so forth . . . all who (may) argue theirs is the right way. However, we all belong to the planet and one another; we all came from the same source/return to the same source- mother’s womb to mother earth’s womb, we all share family experience, illness, careers/roles/education, highs and lows, successess and losses and eventually death.
Pew research last week cited recent studies which show 48% of Americans expect Jesus will return again, and the movie epic about the bible has had record viewership on television, no doubt for its juicy stories of genocide, revenge, sexual intrigue and betrayal- human nature with a supernatural God in the plot line. Right now in America evidently, Christianity is ‘hot stuff’ and there is a big market for it. And that is precisely one problem among many: marketing. For fellow Christians stuffing their faces with jelly beans and chocolate rabbits, wearing new clothes and dining on ham and eggs, what message is most central to you? Can you have your Easter, ‘religion’ free? What are the conflicting and competing messages, themes . . . and what for you, is timeless and most meaningful? For me, my dad died Easter Sunday morning, ‘the last lesson from a great professor’ his pastor said. And for me, death is not, nor will ever be, the final word.
Meditation for this post:
“Because religious traditions do not stay static as they move into new centuries, countries, and circumstances, the differences inside each of the world’s religious are vast. . . . Today it is widely accepted that there is no one essence that all religions share. . . . they do not share the same doctrines. They do not perform the same rituals. And they do not share the same goals.” Pp12-13 “If the Dao has ten thousand gates, so do the great religions. And it is up to each of us to find our own.’ -334 God is NOT One, The eight rival religions that run the world and why their differences matter by Stephen Prothero, Harper One Publishing
Hear about Ritual Spaces and Holy Places and the archeological evidence for ancient African Christianity at OWU 7:30pm on April 8th. See http://religion.owu.edu for more information
Also in April (visit Dispatch Gatherings for more specifics)
4/13-5/8 Sessions on Prophetic Activism Temple Tifereth Israel
4/14 Re-forming Reform Judaism
Passover continues to April 2nd, marking deliverance of the Jews from slavery
April 24th is Pseach Sheni, a 2nd Passover of sorts and 4/8 celebrates Lag B’Omer the birth of Jewish Mysticism
4/18-19 Trinity Lutheran Seminary Nelson Trout Lectures
4/11 Hindi New Year; 4/14 Tamil Neww Year; 4/15 Bengali Neww Year and
Hindus have just celebrated Holi 3/27