Dearly Beloved in Christ:
Peace be with you!
As the glorious season of Easter approaches I wish to extend my sincerest blessing and greetings to you and your families and congregations. I would like to spend a few moments with you talking about this holiest of seasons in our church. Second only to the birth of Jesus, when God Himself became incarnate in Jesus, we see in Easter the fulfillment of the prophets telling of the savior of the world realized. We come to understand that in the midst of chaos and confusion, In Jesus there is hope!
Easter is that special time when, through our own periods of prayer, sacrifice and fasting, we begin to understand what the death and resurrection mean to the Christian. As I sit back in my little oratory and meditate on the mystery of the divine, my mind takes me to numerous theological debates that I have with my wife, Heather, and, when I worked at San Quentin, my patients on death row. In these discussions I have been asked the question: “Why is Christianity a religion that celebrates the violence of death? After all, Jesus was scourged, purged, beaten, hung on a cross and buried as a criminal. So, in essence Christianity is a violent religion, and you people celebrate this violence. Why?” Even though in the history of the Roman Church and Christianity we read about the crusades and the discovery or takeover of nations where clergy forced the natives to be baptized or, in some cases, be killed, the death of Jesus is not meant to glorify death and evil but to give us an understanding of what our sinful nature does to us.
When I am challenged by statements as those above, my heart and mind travel to the life of Christ and the first Easter. Think of this if you will. If you read the Old Testament, you will notice several themes of creation, rebellion, rules, and the promise of a Savior. We read about a God who punishes only to exalt. We read the stories written by man as told through oral tradition. They are stories of struggle, conquest and exultation. They are stories of faith and lack of faith. Through it all runs the theme of Yahweh trying to show the people what it means to forgive, love and move on. Not punish, beat up, kill and destroy. Even the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, if one truly understands it, is a way to show the believing people of God what sin can and does do to one’s soul. It is a story that illustrates the annihilation of humankind if human kind persists in turning away from God and forging forward in the waywardness of Satan. It illustrates, truly, that the wages of sin is indeed death. Which brings me to Easter.
Let’s take a look at Jesus’s life for a moment. If they had had video back then we would see a regular guy of poor means trying to make it in the world. We see a young boy growing in faith, learning a trade, and eventually moving away from home pursuing his career. Like some of us – we grow up wanting to be one thing, and wind up in a career different from our initial dream. Jesus, however, had one thing in mind, that is, to serve his heavenly Father. We see how in Jesus’s poverty, he rose above the struggle, while still struggling, and used his talent as a preacher and teacher to spread the message of peace and justice throughout the countryside and towns. He was the miracle worker of the day. As we know, he changed water into wine, raised the dead and healed the sick (both physically and spiritually). He tried to show the multitudes that the suffering we have, we give to ourselves. All we need do is follow his lead and reach out to the anawim – the widow, the orphan, and the lowly – and give ourselves to another out of care and consideration of our fellow human being. As Jesus illustrated this through his lifestyle of selflessness and message of messianic hope, he also clearly showed the people what evil and neglect can do. Think of the money changers in the temple and his reaction to them disrespecting his Father’s house. Ponder on the meaning of the parable of the camel and the Needle’s Eye. It’s not a story of trying to fit a camel through the eye of a needle, but the story of how the tax collector tried to cheat the people as they entered the gate of Jerusalem, which was small and lower then the height of a camel. The people had to get the camel to kneel on all fours and literally crawl through the gate. As they did so, the tax collectors would go through their merchandise and tax the vendor once through the gate, which was called the “Needle’s Eye Gate”, not the “Eye of a Needle”. This is a story about dishonesty and mistrust.
As Jesus pointed out the flaws in humanity, he also tried to teach us ways to overcome those flaws. Just as people were starting to get the message, others felt threatened through jealously, hatred and evil. The best way to destroy good is to obliterate it. The evil ones, at that time, tried to wipe out good the only way they knew how: turn evil against it. Jesus told the people that destroying good is not the answer, and to turn away from sin, and if they didn’t, Jesus was going to show them, through himself, what evil will do. The beatings, scourging, crowning with thorns, and eventual death of Jesus were the price paid to evil. The horribly beaten Jesus was illustrative of what the mangled sinful soul looks like through neglect, and improper choices. The ugliness of the scourged, battered body of Jesus is what humankind has chosen if sin is their way. But, even in this gross anatomical illustration, the ultimate price of sin is what happened when Jesus died. That point was the point of death of the soul, and what it looks like when humankind chooses the way of sin.
However, the story is not over. For recall that Jesus descended into hell, and that He opened the gates of hell freeing those unjustly put there, and on the third day rose from the dead. What does this illustrate? The resurrection is the ultimate illustration of what happens to the soul that is redeemed, freed from sin, and chooses life over death. The resurrection of Jesus is truly a metaphor for our resurrection from our human sin-nature to our divine promise of eternal life…but… only if we choose it. The human Jesus chose to be born a slave. Chose to suffer and chose to die. The divine Christ chose to rise and present his followers with the choice to go forth to all nations and preach the Good News. That if we choose to cheat, steal, kill, and go against nature and God, we will truly suffer and look like the battered Jesus, all mauled and tortured. But, if we choose to fight evil, turn away from sin, and believe the Good News, eternal life shall be ours.
Ah, Easter! A true metaphor of what the human soul can choose to look like in the midst of its sinful abuse and obliteration, or its glorious redemption and resurrection.
Choose wisely, my friends. This Easter as you celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, celebrate also your resurrection and turning away from the ugliness and evilness of sin. Be charitable to others and love thy neighbor as Jesus taught us all to love ourselves. In Jesus there is hope!
May the word of God find a place in your heart, and may the resurrected Jesus give you peace.
Sincerely yours in the Risen Lord,