What do we think of as we approach Easter Sunday? Often, the vision of Easter for me is my son, my nieces and nephews, my grandsons as they search for Easter eggs, eat chocolate bunny ears ~ all dressed in their Easter finery. And then, there's the vision of my early years, dressed in my Easter finery ~ hat, gloves, new shiny shoes, spring colored dress ~ with my sisters and parents, going into church with the fragrance of Easter lilies filling the sanctuary. The songs we sang ~ the sermons that were delivered ~ exalted the risen Lord, the One who had died to save us from our sins. This belief in the sacrifice of Jesus - where did it begin?
According to the story told in the Gospels, and the interpretation of that story by theologian throughout the centuries, Jesus purposely chose the week of Passover because it symbolized the people’s belief that a relationship with God called for sacrifice. We have been taught that Jesus wanted to introduce his people, and us, to a new covenant, a new agreement, one which showed that God never asks us for any sacrifice at all.
Again according to that story and that interpretation, four days after that Passover Seder, the Last Supper, after being tried, convicted, and crucified, he rose from the dead in a powerful demonstration of forgiveness and love. He showed us that, indeed, there had been no sacrifice at all because he was alive and had always been.
Nearly two-thousand years later, the Christian world seems so ingrained in this concept that “sacrifice is love,” that that Passoever meal, that last suppoer, has come to symbolize sacrifice. The sharing of bread and wine, in what has come to be known as “The Sacrament of Holy Communion,” continues to commemorate Jesus “taking the sins of the world upon himself.”
And according to this shared belief, He suffered and died in our place – as if the only way our mistakes could be forgiven was to have someone suffer or be punished in our place.
This belief of sacrificial redemption has created a Jesus who is the “great exception,” and not as the “great example.” In this belief, when Jesus called himself “the Lamb of God," he meant he would be slaughtered as a sacrifice.
And what if, what he meant to show was, not himself as a sacrifice, but how completely he followed the guidance of the Divine within, like a lamb follows its shepherd.
Any ritual has the potential of becoming an object of worship itself, replacing the original purpose with a new one. What if the true meaning of the “Communion” shared at that Passover Feast, and ultimately his Death and Resurrection, was a simple one -- the love shared among Jesus and his students, or disciples. He had been teaching them for three years. They had been through a lot together. They had been family.
At that last meal, using figures of speech which everyone there would have understood, Jesus picked up a piece of bread and said, “this is my body” by which he meant “This represents my teachings--the substance, or body, of what I have shared with the world, and most of all with you.”
Then, taking the goblet of wine in his hand, he also said, “This is my blood,” by which he meant, “This wine represents the essence of me, my example, my very life.” He then continued, “Whenever you gather to celebrate the Passover--in fact any time you meet to share a meal like this, do not forget why we have been together.
Do not forget what this has all been about. Soon I will be leaving, and then YOU will be the lights, shining in a mostly endarkened world.
He was saying to them, “There will be lots of times when you will be tempted to forget all this when you are out there in the world on your own. I urge you to come together like this to support each other and to remind yourselves once again of your purpose, and the love we have all shared.
The life of Jesus, from his birth, his teachings, his actions, to his resurrection, is about Love. It is Love that we are asked to remember, to be, to live. Easter is Love manifested! Happy Easter.