My understanding of Easter has changed considerably over the years. The core meaning has remained constant. This core meaning is that the death of Jesus shows us the way to the kingdom of heaven. Jesus gave his life to show us how to have life more abundantly. By giving, we receive. The giving and the receiving are spiritual. I do not accept that Jesus delivers wealth and other earthly treasures. Nor do I believe that Jesus favors some people over others. I believe Jesus delivered something for all of us. The difference comes in whether or not you accept the gift from Jesus. If you truly accept it, the proof lies in what results in your life following the acceptance.
The U. S. Army used the phrase “Be All That You Can Be” as an advertising slogan. That slogan might have been used by Jesus. What we know about Jesus supports this idea. Since Jesus points the way to God, the slogan is derived from God’s love. Many stories from the Bible are available.
One of the easiest to recognize is the passage from Matthew 22:36-40 that is called the Greatest Commandments or the Most Important Commandments (MIC). Since the Bible is a book of relationships, the MIC is the key to a person’s relationship with God.
When Moses encountered God’s glory at the burning bush, Moses asked who he was supposed to tell the Israelites it was who had sent him. God’s answer was, “I am Who I am”. This statement is important for its simplicity that also contains great meaning. God just is. Some say God is the ground of being, the root of existence. Jesus points to the way of being. Jesus guides us to gaining the ability to say, “I am”. By this, I do not mean that we are God, but that we live toward being filled with God’s love or, in effect, being filled with God. It is the ability to be satisfied with being oneself.
The Bible tells stories of Jesus recognizing that his disciples did not understand who he was and what he was about. This included even those who appeared to be the most dedicated in the group such as Peter and John. It is generally believed that the ministry of Jesus lasted three years or so. Stories tell us that Jesus was believed to be a carpenter, the Son of God, a rabbi, the Messiah, and a rebel leader. Investigating the Bible shows to us that noneof the disciples understood Jesus prior to the crucifixion. The stories of different disciples wanting to sit beside Jesus on his throne, jockeying for power, and apparently empty headed references to Jesus as the Messiah indicate that they missed his message about the love of God being foremost in life. They seemed to believe Jesus planned to establish a traditional or orthodox kingdom on the earth.
Some of the disciples had at least three years to experience Jesus. Still, at the time of the crucifixion, it is obvious from the stories that we are told that none of them yet understood the impact of Jesus in their lives and what Jesus meant to the world. It appears that the crucifixion was such a shock for the disciples that most or all of them abandoned Jesus for a while. As they recovered from the shock, they considered what Jesus meant. They began to be filled with God’s love (usually referred to as the Holy Spirit). It can also be said that Jesus was resurrected in each of the disciples. In attempting to kill off the Jesus movement, the authorities instead strengthened it since Jesus very soon returned in hundreds or perhaps thousands of people. The experience of Jesus was incredibly powerful then and it can be today, too.
Can you be all that you can be if you live in fear of much in the world? It seems that Jesus lived a life unafraid of tomorrow. He was able to do this because he gave his life for others long before the crucifixion occurred. Evidence for this can be seen in stories such as the parable of the rich young ruler who asked how he could gain what Jesus had gained. When the man was told to give up all that he had and follow Jesus, he walked away dejected. Jesus did show fear over the prospect of the crucifixion in one of the Gospel narratives of prayers in Gethsemane, but he overcame even this with the love of God that filled him. The Jesus experience provides a fullness of life that brings confidence and a strength grounded in God’s love.
God’s love is a light that enters the darkness and drives it away. The more light is in one’s life, the less darkness is present. It seems fear can block the light when we allow fear to take a place in our lives. Perhaps our greatest fear is fear of losing our possessions. Possessions include our relationships. Jesus teaches about the effects of possessions in the stories about being willing and able to give up what you own to the point of even giving up your life.
Look around at your life today. Inspect how you feel about your possessions. How difficult would it be for you to give away your possessions to somebody else? How difficult would it be to lose a relationship? How difficult would it be for you to lose a child, spouse, sibling, parent, or friend? I have lost all of those. The only way for me to survive was through practicing the love of God through Jesus. It involves giving even when it hurts. Giving even when old prejudices and opinions say not to give.
As animals, we are endowed with instincts. Instincts are said to enhance survival. In the case of humans, we often have a great ability to adapt to overcome these instincts if we want to overcome them. The survival instincts seem to cause a human not to share with others, to mistrust those who are different, and to gain everything one can get for oneself. Humans can decide what to do. Humans can overcome instincts. This can be called free will.
The human ability to believe in something beyond oneself enhances the ability to overcome instincts. Frequently, the something more than self is called God or some other power outside oneself. I will refer to this simply as God. God allows us a way to interconnect and interrelate for the greater good of the group or society.
When one reviews the Bible as a whole, one will find that a frequent theme is that we overcome being self-centered so we can help those who are the less fortunate in the world. The Torah refers to jubilee years. Every seven years, everyone was to forgive the debts of anybody who owed them money. Every fifty, years, if land had changed ownership for some reason, the land was to be returned to the family of the original owner. I do not recall reading that this was ever practiced. It is most likely that those who lent money or acquired property managed to control the government so it was never done. In those days, the government and religion were deeply intertwined. Wealth became more and more concentrated.
At Easter, we are faced with the example of Jesus giving himself up and his spirit becoming understandable and available for us to accept and have indwelling in us. When that spirit dwells within you, you will be able to tell since you will be able to overcome prejudices in your life. You will be more willing to share. Is there something about some group of people or even about a particular person that really makes you angry? Maybe you can learn to love and overcome that sin in your life?
Having Jesus in your life does no good unless you work to learn how to love. I know from personal experience. It does not happen just because you perform actions for a church. It does not happen because you repeat some words or pray often. It requires work and changing of the heart.
It is worth it. It can change the world one small loving action at a time. That is the kingdom of heaven toward which the cross pointed at the crucifixion and it is where it points each day.
Learn to love as Jesus teaches with the MIC. Be all that you can be. With love, there is less room for fear.