Tag Archives: Easter

One interpretation of the Easter story

Elaine Pagels gives this summary of the events leading up to Easter Sunday:

“Jesus’ passionate and powerful presence aroused enormous response, especially when he preached among the crowds of pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. As the Jewish and Roman authorities well knew, tensions were high during the religious holidays when Jewish worshipers found themselves face to face with the Roman soldiers. Jesus’ near contemporary the Jewish historian Josephus, himself a governor of Galilee, tells of a Roman soldier on guard near the Temple who contemptuously exposed himself before just such a crowd, an outrage that incited a riot in which twenty thousand died. When Jesus dared enter the Temple courtyard before a certain Passover, brandishing a whip, throwing down the tables of those changing foreign money, and quoting the words of the prophet Jeremiah to attach the Temple leaders for turning God’s house into a ‘den of robbers,’ the Gospel of Mark says, ‘he would not allow any one to carry anything through the temple’ (Mark 11.16). But soon afterwards the authorities took action to prevent this firebrand village preacher from fanning the religious and nationalistic passions already smoldering among the restless crowds. The Jewish Council, eager to keep the peace, and hoping to avoid recrimination from their Roman masters, collaborated with the Roman procurator to have Jesus arrested, tried, and hastily executed on charges of having threatened to tear down the Temple single-handedly, and having conspired to rise against Rome and make himself king of the Jews (Mark 14.58-15.26).

“Jesus himself, according to the New Testament, saw himself very differently, not as a revolutionary but as a man seized by the spirit that inspired Isaiah and Jeremiah — the spirit of God — as a prophet sent to warn humankind of the approaching Kingdom of God and to offer purification to those who would listen. Repeatedly, according to the New Testament accounts, Jesus chose to risk death rather than allow himself to be silenced.” Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (New York: Random House, 1988), pp. 6-7.

Based on this Easter reading, here are two my two Easter thoughts this year:

(1) In today’s Western culture, religio-political leaders (and politico-religious leaders) like to style themselves as successors to Jesus, and followers of prophets like Jeremiah. However, history tells us that we have seen very few such leaders who actually were successors to Jesus, and many more who were instead successors to the Jerusalem’s religious leaders who were tools of the Romans. The difference between the two? Jesus answered to moral truth and to a God of humane justice; Jerusalem’s religious leaders answered to political expediency and to their political puppet masters.

(2) After Jesus was executed on trumped-up political charges, Jesus’s message was not silenced. Maybe it got seriously transmogrified by later philosophers (Augustine and Paul come to mind), but if we listen carefully we can still hear Jesus’ basic message of righteousness and humanity. Two thousand years later, that message is still very much alive; Easter is a good holiday to remember that message, and to remind ourselves to look for the strings by which many religious leaders are controlled by their puppet masters.

Jesus in Jerusalem, part 2

I’ve been working on a series of stories for liberal religious kids, and here’s another story from this work-in-progress. This is very much a Unitarian version of the Easter story (betraying my own religious background; I was born a Unitarian, just before merger), in which there is no thought that Jesus might be God; this, as you will see, changes the story from the traditional version. In the book, this will follow a story about the events of Palm Sunday (“Jesus in Jerusalem, part 1,” not yet complete). Note that this is still a rough draft.

Jesus in Jerusalem, part 2

Copyright (c) 2006 Dan Harper

On that first day in Jerusalem, Jesus did little more than look around in the great Temple of Jerusalem; the Temple that was the holiest place for Jesus and for all other Jews. Jesus couldn’t help but see that around the edges of the Temple there were people selling everything from goats to pigeons, and other people who would change money for you, for a fee. Besides that, Jesus saw all kinds of people coming and going, taking shortcuts by going through the Temple, carrying all kinds of gear and equipment and baskets. But on that first day, he and his followers just watched all this, and then left.

The next day, Jesus returned to the Temple. He walked in, chased out the people selling things, and upset the tables of the moneychangers. Needless to say, he created quite a commotion! and a crowd gathered around to see what this stranger, this traveling rabbi, was up to. Once the dust had settled, Jesus turned to the gathered crowd, and quoted from the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Isaiah where God says, “My Temple shall be known as a place of prayer for all nations.” Jesus said it was time that the Temple went back to being a place of prayer. How could you pray when there were people buying and selling things right next to you? How could you pray with all those pigeons cooing?

His followers and many other people thought Jesus did the right thing in chasing the pigeon-dealers, the moneylenders, and the other salespeople out of the Temple. But the way he did it managed to annoy the powerful people who ran the Temple. It made them look bad. They didn’t like that.

In the next few days, Jesus taught and preached all through Jerusalem. He quoted from the Hebrew scriptures, the book of Leviticus where it says, “You are to love your neighbor as yourself.” He encouraged people to be genuinely religious, to help the weak and the poor. Jesus also got into heated discussions with some of Jerusalem’s religious leaders, and he was so good at arguing that once again, he made those powerful people look bad. Once again, they didn’t like that.

Meanwhile, other things were brewing in Jerusalem. The Romans governed Jerusalem, and they became concerned about Jesus. They realized that when Jesus rode into the city, he was welcomed by a crowd of people who treated him as if he were one of the long-lost kings of Israel. That made the Romans worry. Was Jesus planning some kind of secret religious rebellion? How many followers did he have? What was he really up to, anyway?

Jesus continued his teaching and preaching from Sunday until Thursday evening, when Passover began. Since Jesus and his disciples were all good observant Jews, after sundown on Thursday they celebrated a Passover Seder together. They had the wine, the matzoh, the bitter herbs, all the standard things you have at a Seder.

After the Seder, even though it was after dark Jesus and his followers went to a garden to sit for a while. All his followers fell asleep, but Jesus himself was restless and depressed and stayed awake. He had a strong sense that the Romans or the powerful religious leaders were going to try to arrest him for stirring up trouble, for agitating the people of Jerusalem. He didn’t regret anything he had said or done, for after all what he had said was the truth; but he was restless. He didn’t know how or when he might be arrested, but he was pretty sure it would happen sometime soon.

As it happened, Jesus was arrested just a few hours after the Seder while he sat in the garden, while his followers were still sleeping. Jesus was put on trial that same night, and he was executed the next day. The Romans put him to death using a common but very unpleasant type of execution known as crucifixion. He died on Friday, when the sun was about to go down.

Because the Jewish sabbath started right at sundown, and Jewish law of the time did not allow you to bury anyone on the Sabbath day, Jesus’ friends couldn’t bury him right away. There were no funeral homes back in those days, so Jesus’ friends put his body in a tomb, a sort of cave cut into the side of a hill, where the body would be safe until after the Sabbath was over.

First thing Sunday morning, some of Jesus’ friends went to the tomb to get the body ready for burial. But to their great surprise, the body was gone, and there was a man there in white robes who talked to them about Jesus!

This whole story happened two thousand years ago, so we’ll never know quite what happened. But what might have happened is that some of Jesus’ other friends had already come along buried the body. Jesus’s followers must have been disorganized and confused that morning, and though they all were upset Jesus was dead, they also worried that one or more of them might be arrested, too, and even put to death. The burial must have taken place in secret, and probably not all the followers got told when and where the burial was.

So by the time some of Jesus’ followers had gotten to the tomb, others had already buried his body. Some of Jesus’ followers began saying that Jesus had risen from the dead, and after that several people even claimed to have spoken with him. All of his friends were so sad, and missed him so much, that they wanted to believe that he was alive again.

But you could say that Jesus did live on through his teaching. What he taught about the power of love has changed the world. He taught that we should love all people as we love ourselves; and if you can really live your life that way, you’ll find that your world will be changed, too.