It is the day after Easter. Have you checked the tomb of Jesus today? Did you run to the garden seeking Jesus on Sunday morning? If you found that it was rolled away on Sunday morning, has it rolled back over the entrance to the tomb since yesterday? If it has rolled back, who rolled it back? Was it you? Was it your church or some other authority you know?
The symbolism used in the stories of the Bible are fascinating and can be very powerful as well as useful in life. Taking everything literally can detract from the message though if one does not give the message careful consideration.
It is popular for Christians to attend church at Easter even though they may rarely attend on any other day of the year. That does not necessarily indicate a problem. I am not one who is particularly attached to any given religious (or spiritual) organization, but I do believe attending activities with a church or other group can strengthen one spiritually and aid in personal growth. I am a member of and regularly attend Castleton United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Even for those who regularly attend religious activities such as those of a church, there seems to be a tendency to lose focus between events. So, there is a buildup for people during Lent in the weeks prior to Easter. Then, on the day after, it is so easy to get back to business as usual.
This pattern is often repeated every week of the year. On Sunday, the pastor can preach a wonderful message of the love of Jesus and tell us how we can use it in our lives. We can attend a study group where we read books and discuss the teachings of Jesus. What happens the rest of the week?
One of the most common calls from Jesus is to minister to those who are the less fortunate in society. He lists examples such as feeding the hungry, clothing the ill clad, caring for the sick, elderly, young, and imprisoned. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with people from other cultures, in particular, people from India. I have found that their teachings are similar to the teachings of Jesus on these matters.
I have searched for a clear indication that Jesus ever placed any limitation on how we can do those things. He never said that none of those things could or should be done by our government although many people claim that it is wrong for the government to help. He did not say that it is the place of the church only. It seems to me that Jesus commands simply that we find a way to do it. In Jesus’s day and in the times when the Jews were self ruling, the Temple (the church) performed many of the functions of government such as tax collecting and providing money for caring for the poor and for use by the government for other functions. If the high priest did not keep the people under control and perform his other governmental functions well, he lost his job.
Think about the times when Jesus was speaking to groups of people. Frequently, it is described in terms that indicate that he was in a public place speaking to whoever was in the area. There is ample evidence in the Bible that when God sent a messenger out, it was not necessarily to a group of so called believers or Jews. Jonah is a great example of this. Even though Jonah was sent to people who were despised by the Jews, he was to deliver a message to them so they would have the opportunity to respond to God. One could say Jonah was in the position of an IU basketball fan being sent to Lexington to cheer on the Kentucky basketball team.
The message of Jesus is and always has been meant for all of the world. He delivers a message of wisdom that is universal when the message of the love of God is delivered (Matthew 22_36-40 again). The same message can be found in the wisdom of all cultures that I have studied.
At Easter, the message of Jesus can become obscured by the religious symbolism and by the traditions that have been developed by Christian groups over the centuries. It is easy to listen to the story of the trial, Gethsemane, the crucifixion, and the resurrection then lose or weaken the memory and the commitment to the teachings of Jesus.
I have known people to get all tied up about the “Jews killing Jesus”. To some these days, it is more palatable to blame it on the Romans. I believe it had more to do with those who were in charge protecting their own interests regardless of ethnicity. Some folks focus upon the resurrection to the degree that they decide that it is important to go out and “save” people. They can become so busy with fixing others that they have little time to consider much of the message from Jesus for guiding our lives. They forget about loving others. Those folks tend to have acquired an incredible focus upon heaven to the extent that they lose compassion for the lives of others. Another distraction provided by Easter is the idea of a “necessary sacrifice” of Jesus the man. There are several other lesser stories involved. All of these can have their place, but there is a tendency for us to misuse them in our zeal to build or serve the church or when we feel so strongly that we are correct that we must push our ideas upon other people.
I view the story of Easter week as a series of stories that are to help us to move forward in our lives with our spiritual development by developing our relationships of all kinds. Jesus said that the disciples would not really understand who He was or what He meant until after He was gone. For me, this translates the story of the resurrection and the rolling away of the stone as an epiphany for everyone to share. It becomes something personal. Each of the original followers involved in the first Easter probably experienced it in a personal manner. The story given in the Bible is a compact way to present it and was likely easily understood in that time.
The story of Easter becomes personal if we decide to make it personal. Jesus comes into our lives and for a time, we may be blinded by an almost romantic bliss that blocks the development of a healthy relationship with Jesus. I see it as very similar to when a person falls in love with someone. We may have expectations of miracles. Maybe we want to conquer the world. We want to believe anything and everything “good” about our beloved. We want to be important and feel like we are of ultimate importance to our beloved. Our desired conquests in life may be the desire for a good career with happiness and financial success. Our beloved can make us feel capable of achieving anything. There can be a feeling of strength with a newfound relationship with Jesus (or maybe it is just the church) that can make us feel we will meet that perfect spouse and have those perfect children. Certainly, Jesus will deliver good health or health for our loved ones. Whatever may trouble or concern us, we want something to take care of it for us. Is it a messiah we seek? Do we seek someone to conquer the world so we can use it however we desire?
As the original disciples sought to follow their messiah, they became involved in various approaches to personal success. Peter thought it would come by walking on water and learned that it did not. It seemed the members of the group spent much time jockeying for favor with Jesus, such as in the story about who would sit on the left and right of Jesus. Peter drew a sword at Gethsemane, but was rebuked by Jesus because that was not the way. Judas Iscariot was very concerned with money. Jesus told them many times that they did not understand His ways and that perhaps they did not understand even themselves.
Easter is a reminder that each of us is to move ahead. We are to grow in our understanding. For the past year, Jesus has been with us to teach us more. It is up to us to recognize and utilize His presence. Now, after the suffering of the changes and losses of the preceding year and the changes that occur with Easter, Jesus sets the example again of giving himself up for us. The stone is then rolled away so we have the opportunity once again to see Jesus for what He really is. He is an example. He is a friend to walk by our side. He is Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is not some powerful or magical force that is here to deliver what we want. Joining with Him can help us find what we need, but that is not always what we want.
See if you can keep from rolling the stone back where you would shut Jesus out of your life for the coming year. Take the opportunity to freely walk with Him. Be careful that you do not allow friends, family, or your religious or spiritual organizations, connections and beliefs to roll the stone back when you are not watching. Rejoice in understanding that the value we receive from Jesus is not in the tomb, the resurrection, or any of the other miracles listed in the Bible. He came that each of us could have life and have it more abundantly as we follow His way by loving God, then loving others as one loves oneself.