Easter, the holy season that begins the Christian worship year, has just passed for this year. Most churches build up to Easter as the most important day of the year. I do not recall ever experiencing continuity in the messages from a church following Easter. I have attended various Baptist churches and now attend a United Methodist Church.
The first three gospels were written to provide material for liturgical use by the early Christians. There is an order to them to show that they tell the story of Jesus relative to his Jewish roots. Matthew and Luke provide enough material for one year of worship, while Mark provides only about six months or so. In the beginning, Easter would have been followed by stories of how the disciples came to know Jesus and gained the ability to preach and teach more disciples.
Each of the Gospels provides a different perspective on Easter. That allows us to learn something a bit different from one Gospel to another. As I have seen it taught over many years, the stories from the four Gospels are mixed together to provide a hybridized story that is to be taken literally. Since the various stories are not considered separately and in detail, the original meaning that can be derived from the crucifixion of Jesus is missed. We are left with an emotional and less powerful story than was intended by the earliest disciples.
When Easter is not followed with the stories of the growth of the disciples following Easter, then the church misses a great opportunity to help its members (disciples, we hope) grow in their understanding and abilities to serve God.
Each of the Gospels, plus other Bible passages, also contain stories of people who encountered Jesus after he was crucified. As in other Bible stories, it is important to consider writing styles and customs of the time and to connect the stories with other stories in the Bible when possible. In addition, we should use the knowledge that we have gained over the past 2,000 about people, geography, and science. For instance, we know now that the world is not flat. We know that just beyond the apparent dome that we call the sky is not heaven, but space with other planets, stars, and such. Considering all that has been learned reveals so much more to us than people have generally understood over the past 2,000 years.
I find a deeper message for us in the Easter story than the one that is commonly repeated each year in the spring. It seems that Jesus knew that the religious authorities were missing the point with God and it is why he preached and taught as he did. Jesus was unorthodox in his time. The religious and political people running what was equivalent to “The Church” became so upset with Jesus that they executed him. The powerful people eventually gained control of most of the church and established an orthodoxy that provided comfort and control for those who ruled. The Jesus movement was stifled, but Jesus has had a way of resurrecting in the world repeatedly so the movement has never been eliminated. I think the movement is continuing to grow into what Jesus intended. It is important to understand the real power of the resurrection to help it along.
The power of the resurrection of Jesus comes from realizing that Jesus must be resurrected in you and me. It seems most people have believed that God will intervene and make things happen. We want to believe that we can leave many of the loving actions in the world up to God. People tend to sit in their pews, pray as they are told, give what they feel is appropriated, and do a few things to be saved so they are content.
. I once read that the Hebrews original meaning for the word interpreted as angel was “agent of God”. We do not want to take responsibility for being the agents of God. Oh, we are glad to donate some canned goods to a food pantry occasionally or volunteer in a soup kitchen or other such activities. Jesus calls us to give every day all day long. Every day… all day long! Jesus was Jesus all of the time. Not just on the Sabbath or at Christmas. Not just when somebody was watching.
That is the message of Easter. It is the message of the resurrection. The resurrection must take place in us. Instead, we have been taking Jesus to the cross, nailing him to it, celebrating a resurrection into heaven, then, going on our merry way feeling our sins have been paid for.
It is time to amplify the resurrection of Jesus. I hope the following passages from the Bible help you to understand what I mean.
There are several stories in the Bible about things that happened after the crucifixion. Perhaps my favorite of the stories is referred to as being on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35. This story tells of two men who are walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. They are dejected and talking of the happenings of the past few days. Jesus joined them as they walked, but they did not recognize him. When asked what was of such concern to them, the two men replied that Jesus had been crucified and they had such high hopes for him as the Messiah. Jesus then explains scripture to them as they continue the walk. When they arrive at Emmaus, Jesus prepares to walk on, but they ask him to stay and share a meal with them. As they are eating, Jesus breaks the bread and hands it to them. They suddenly recognize him. They suddenly understood. At that moment, I believe Jesus was resurrected in them. They understood that the kingdom of which Jesus spoke was not one of this world, but a spiritual kingdom in which we are called to live each day.
Other stories are told in the Gospels concerning the appearance of Jesus to others following the crucifixion. These stories are generally taught as being factual and in doing so, the power in the stories is lost. For one thing, when many people hear the stories or give them much thought, they decide they cannot believe the stories so they discard Jesus as a result. The effect upon those who decide to take the stories as facts is that they miss at least two important points that can be gained from the stories. One point is that in order for Jesus to have an impact in the world, he must be resurrected in each of us. Another point is that we fail to learn that we can become more like Jesus ourselves.
I take these stories to mean that the early disciples understood who Jesus was because they had experienced Jesus. After the crucifixion, they searched for meaning in that experience. It is possible to lose the meaning of the story by getting wrapped up in details. The Hebrews and other peoples told stories with deeper meaning than could be seen on the surface.
· Is it necessary to believe that Jesus literally appeared to these men?
· Is it necessary to believe that they walked to Emmaus?
· Is it necessary to believe that they were talking for one to three hours?
· What does the breaking of the bread have to do with the lesson that is being taught?
Why does one become a follower of Jesus? A common reason is that people want to avoid hell and go to heaven. A second popular reason is that a person’s family goes to church or has some other tradition of Christianity. Some people may follow Jesus because they are attracted by his preaching and teaching. Some of those who are born into Christianity and some of those who want to avoid hell may eventually decide to follow Jesus more closely by learning more and growing closer to Jesus.
What is important as a follower of Jesus?
· Being saved – avoiding hell and going to heaven?
· Being part of the family or community?
· Being part of the organization – going to church?
· Raising a moral family?
· Believing in a creed?
· Believing the Bible is literal?
· Believing in the teachings of the church?
· Having your prayers heard and answered?
· Following a particular minister?
· Learning to live a life of God’s love as taught by Jesus?
You may think of other things that are important. Most people probably have some variation or combination of the above considerations. For me, the last item on the list will take care of most of the others. I do not believe the Bible has much value when there is insistence that it is to be taken literally. (Think of the unclean foods that are listed, rules about the left hand, and etc.) The peculiar teachings of the churches mean relatively little compared to the teachings of Jesus. Church teachings should supplement the teaching of Jesus. The creeds do not have much that is critical for following Jesus. Plenty of ministers have led people astray. Prayers are heard and answered no matter what, they just may not be answered to your satisfaction.
Just as happened nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus can resurrect in his disciples today. Just as it was then it is now. Jesus must be invited into one’s life, then lived each day. It takes time to learn and mistakes are made. With commitment, Jesus shows the way.