Easter

When I was a child Easter was about getting a new dress, a hat to match, patent leather shoes, and white gloves.  We celebrated the resurrection, had lots of people in church and many people who joined the church that day.  We hid Easter eggs with our cousins in our grandparents’ yard, so we were happiest when the day was sunny and the grass was bright green and growing.  As Protestants it was the empty cross that we lifted up.  We paid little attention to the days that had come before.

Now it’s the whole story of these last days of Jesus that inspires me.  Jesus’ struggle with what is coming, his choice to go to Jerusalem anyway, the betrayal of him and his arrest, the trial, the question of whether he had done anything wrong, the brutality, and the screaming of the people demanding that he be crucified—these events resonate with our times and our stories.  I hear the pain and protests of those who claim black lives matter; and I hear the hidden struggles, suffering, and unfairness that so many people endure.

To live through the story each Easter season is to be reminded that we do not suffer alone, that God understands, cares, and loves us in the midst of our own suffering, no matter how great or how small, no matter how deserved or undeserved it is.  The story of the resurrection offers hope when there seems to be no reason to hope.

The challenge is to be present in this Easter story with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is open.  It is all too easy to be skeptical and dismissive instead.

Queries:

What stumbling blocks or particular joys do you experience with Easter?

When life seems unfair and you can’t fix things, where do you find hope?

Prayer:

Sitting quietly in a comfortable chair with feet on the floor, imagine yourself in one of the scenarios that are part of the passion narrative.  Where are you in relation to Jesus?  What do you see, hear, smell?  How do you feel?  What do you say?  What do you learn?

For further reference:

Read any of the gospel passion narratives—Matthew 26-28; Mark 14:27–16:8; Luke 22:39-24:53; John 18-21.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (See I Corinthians 1: 18-31.)

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

On the front of a church in Manley Beach, Australia, we saw a banner titled “Jesus Is ___.” Below the title were blocks containing many different responses to this question. Some answers were obviously from people who know and cherish Jesus; others were from people who don’t know much about him or who find him irrelevant.

Who Jesus is has been a question for a long time. John, the Jew who baptized persons for repentance before Jesus began his ministry, was in prison and heard about Jesus. The gospels of Matthew and Luke report that he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It seems to me all four of the gospels are trying to help us grasp who Jesus is. Early church councils wrestled with who Jesus was and/or is. Today there are scholars engaged in the “quest for the historical Jesus.”

When Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth to teach and to heal, the people were astounded by his teaching. Yet they didn’t ask who he was because they assumed they already knew. He fit in a certain box—a carpenter, son of Mary, brother of James and others, a local boy. Instead they questioned the wisdom and power they heard and saw with him; they were offended and could not receive what he gave others.

A Russian man I met, who read the gospels when reading the Bible was illegal, found new life and a Christianity he chose even in the face of life-threatening risk. I know others who have found in Jesus meaning and purpose in life and hope in the face of death, when previously life had seemed like nothing more than a thin candle melting into nothingness, just waiting to be blown out.

What seems important is to ask the question—without a shallow formula or boxed-up assumptions.

Queries:

Who do you say Jesus is?

What assumptions might you have (or have had) about who he is that block his power in your life?

Prayer:

By continual repetition of the Jesus Prayer at the edge of your awareness over a prolonged period, who Jesus is may settle in you in a nonverbal way—“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The shorter version is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

For further reflection:

[Jesus asked his disciples,] “who do you say that I am?” (See Mark 8: 27-33).

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him” (See John 1: 1-18).

Jesus Christ—What’s in a Name?

Who is Jesus and why does that matter? I both know and don’t know. The name Jesus Christ stirs all kinds of feelings and responses. Sometimes I hear people saying Jesus Christ, as if Christ were Jesus’ last name. Sometimes I hear people drawn to the name Jesus–the historical human being, the teacher. Sometimes, like early Friends, people express more openness to Christ, the cosmic and universal divine being. What can the name Jesus Christ tell us?

At a certain point Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is (Mark 8: 27; Matthew 16: 13). It seems as if it was common in those days for a person to be understood in relation to another person or quality. The people say Jesus is Elijah or John the Baptist, not because they are confusing him with them but because they are fitting Jesus into a story and understanding him in that context. Knowing him as the Messiah (or the Christ, the Greek word for the same concept)—the anointed one, the one who makes all things new—is catching the big picture.   The disciples begin to see what others who didn’t see that picture couldn’t see. To know Jesus as the Christ can do that for us too.

Jesus Christ also conveys the truth that the only Jesus we have is the one remembered, talked about, and understood after the fact of his death and the experience of his resurrection. When we look back and tell stories from the past they are always colored by the eyes we have in the present. It is a gift that we can see the connections and meaning in ways we couldn’t at the time. (For example, the Martin Luther King I know now is way more significant than the man I read about in the 1950’s.)

The name Jesus Christ affirms the paradox that this one is both human and divine, that God dwells with us on earth in human flesh, that the divine and human are forever one. It reminds us that we also are human and divine, even if the divine seems well hidden. It can encourage us to listen inwardly.

I am glad that we have this two-part name. It gives us room to make some kind of connection regardless of how we feel or what we know at any given time. And it also carries an invitation or challenge to know more.

Queries:

What do you know and how do you feel about Jesus Christ?

How do you become open to seeing things in new ways?

Prayer:

Imagine yourself with Jesus and hear him ask you, “Who do you say I am?” Allow yourself to be present, to listen and respond.

For further reflection:

“Wonderful Counselor . . . Prince of Peace . . .” (See Isaiah 9:6).

“You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. . .” (See Matthew 1:18-25). Note: The Hebrew and Aramaic forms of Jesus and he will save are similar.