This long weekend of Good Friday and Easter is the lasting and almost the last legacy of Christianity in many countries that were traditionally ‘Christian’. Now it is a time of merry making and outdoor fun, weather permitting.
I have three lines of thoughts to share on this day. The first line of thought centers on historicity of Christian beliefs.
The historic Jesus and the Jesus of the modern religious institutions are not exactly the same. Disputes have appeared among followers of Jesus at various times right from the days of the apostles. Disputes have been resolved at what were known as synods. The very first synod is known as the Synod of Jerusalem, which was attended by the apostles Paul and Peter themselves among others. The chief dispute at the time was whether circumcision was necessary for gentiles to be accepted in Christianity and whether Jewish restrictions on eating foods such as pork could be waived. Both were permitted with the exception that food sacrificed to idols shouldn’t be eaten.
The next dispute resolution occurred at the behest of Constantine in 325 AD at Nicea where the foundation of modern Christian beliefs was laid out, especially in terms of accepting Jesus’s divinity and the trinity and also the selection of books to be included in the bible. By that time there were so many old books available to choose from including some written in second century that were at variance with the currently adopted gospels. At the time of this synod churches of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch where all of equal status. Church of Jerusalem where Christianity originated almost came to naught by then. There have been other disputes and synods too. One point of contention was iconoclasm or making of idols, which was approved.
All kinds of beliefs about Jesus were rampant during the first few centuries in and around Jerusalem so much so Prophet Mohammed was influenced by some of them during his trade visits there as a boy assisting his uncle.
The second line of thought I want to share is about the events of Jesus’s death and resurrection as told in the gospels. As a boy I have grown up following most of the biblical stories relating to these events, but little did I realize the sequence of events and their relative importance in the big salvation picture. In fact a book titled “The Historic Jesus” or similar title so many years back was also only speculating why Jesus had to be killed by Jews. I clearly recall the book saying that it was a mystery for what immediate reason the Jews wanted to kill him on Passover day. Now I have a better idea of this sequence, starting with resurrection of Lazar, anointing of Jesus by a woman as a portentous funeral rite, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to tumultuous welcome, melee at the temple where he drove away the traders, secret Passover meal, Gethsemane, Judas’ kiss, night-long trial, 3pm – crucifixion and 3rd day-resurrection. These events all occurred in the space of just over a week and a substantial portion of each of the synoptic gospels deals with these events. Even the word rebellion, ceremonial release of a prisoner like Barabbas and the ‘thieves’ crucified on right and left of Jesus have a unifying theme of constant rebellion of Jews against Roman occupation. If the reader doesn’t find a cohesive story running through all of the above sub-stories, and if he is interested, I could help further. Please let me know using ‘comments’! Whether or not Jesus came back to life is central to the theme of gospels; many books have been written recently to claim success with the investigation into the truth of resurrection. Having said that, I do not think that today the resurrection is a major millstone for christian faith. The reasons for saying that constitute my third line of thought.
My third line of thought today is the most important, though. This is about the relevance of Christianity today and for the future. Regardless of how Christology evolved, Jesus as preached today is my hero! I believe his memory and teachings has an enduring value. The memes such as supreme sacrifice, all encompassing love and hope for the future are so powerful and real that anyone who invokes those thoughts has a very strong tool in his hands. Churches may be losing attendance over North America and Europe now, but a different type of Christendom is being increasingly accepted knowingly or unknowingly by almost everyone, superimposing itself on the existing political and geographic mosaic of the world. I do not talk about literal religious conversion; rather, I do talk about the acceptance of memes or precincts such as love, forgiveness, minimalism, sacrifice, faith and hope as a universality.
The self-check mechanisms of our society are becoming so much more and more robust that even celebrity superstars like Tiger Woods or politicians like Clinton and Dominique Strauss Kahn are finding themselves in a bind for sexual promiscuity. Human rights watchdogs are working everywhere with electronic eyes and ears, ever ready to pick up a violation of hallowed principles that, believe it or not, match with Jesus’s teachings. Therefore, I contend that, contrary to popular belief, Jesus’s story is becoming more relevant today, albeit not in church attendance.