For millions of people, the last few days have been quite sacred.
The week before Easter is always a good time to reflect on what the cross means to any of us who identify as Christ followers. Holy Week is a good time to ponder our beliefs, which to people who believe differently might seem fairly crazy.
Millions of us believe there was a virgin, impregnated by a ghost, who had a baby that was fully human and fully God. If that is not strange enough, the baby grew up to be a man, who lived a pretty low-key life for around 30 years before starting a ministry. During that ministry, he performed many miracles — making the blind see, healing the sick and even raising humans from the dead. This guy ticked off a lot of people (mostly religious folk), which led to him being hung on a cross. A few days later, he strolled out of a tomb and talked to people, including many of his friends, for a month or so before floating away to heaven.
Why is that so hard for people to believe?
As a follower of Jesus myself, I can see how a person who doesn’t believe might find it odd that I place my worldview in the nail-scarred hands of a Jewish zombie.
Easter has always been an odd holiday for me. As a child, it was all about eggs, bunnies, candy, dressing up and taking a family photo. My family were all Christians and I knew the story of Jesus, but He seemed a little more in the background to everything else.
In the church denomination that I grew up in, we did not hear phrases like Palm Sunday or Good Friday much. As far my early church experience involving Easter, the most memorable aspect of the holiday was Easter plays.
Our church would have these elaborate plays that depicted many of the things that I mentioned above. The miracle scenes were always the most memorable. The guy playing Jesus would go around the room “healing” other actors in the play. Before you knew it, folks were getting so into it that the play and real life began to blend together. Jesus would be laying hands on people in the audience, and the place would be filled with excitement. For anyone who didn’t grow up in a Pentecostal church, “laying hands” can mean anything from a comforting hand on the shoulder to a take on the forehead to something that looks more like the Fritz Von Eric iron clawhold.
The performances were not too different from a video I watched online this week of a person playing Jesus in a church play who was nearly burned alive when some pyrotechnics caught the tomb on fire. As people scurries around to put the fire out, the actor playing Jesus marched around the stage with his arms stretched wide, oblivious to the near disaster happening around him. The person singing at the time also continued to sing like nothing odd had happened. If you want a good laugh, search for that video today and watch it.
While Palm Sunday and Good Friday became clearer to me as I grew up, I had never heard of Maundy Thursday until adulthood. It’s a weird phrase. I thought it was probably similar to Fat Tuesday. While it has nothing to do with Mardi Gras, it is definitely a day that needs celebration.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus brought his 12 disciples together at a table to have the Passover meal. He knew everything that was going to happen the next day. He knew his best friends would betray, deny and turn their backs on him. Jesus knew he would soon die.
What did he do?
Jesus took time to hang out with his friends. I imagine the group spent most of their time laughing and joking. Jesus washed all their feet, He gave them some great food and He showed them his love.
Near the end of the meal, Jesus got pretty serious. He showed us all a way to remember Him through the Eucharist, also known as Communion or the Lord’s Supper. He also gave his disciples a commandment, something that he expected from all His followers. Jesus said, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples — when they see the love you have for each other.” — (John 13:34-35, The Message)
Do people know Christ’s followers for our love for one another these days?
• They know us because we go to church on Sunday and we leave a terrible tip at the restaurant afterwards.
• They know us because we like to tell folks they are going to burn in hell if they don’t change their ways.
• They know us because we badmouth beer drinkers, smokers, people with tattoos and piercings and those terrible people who dare show up at “God’s house” without being dressed in their Sunday best.
• They know us because we gave them some weird piece of paper that tells them about their undesirable future, because we didn’t want to take the time to get to know them and tell them about God’s love.
• They know us because we hate the LGBTQ community.
• They know us because we basically hate anyone that disagrees with our own political or religious views.
• They know us because we flip our lids when we don’t understand satire on “Saturday Night Live” or in the opinion cartoon in the newspaper, even though we love those things when the other side is in power.
• They know us because we make terrible movies.
• They know us because we tell them to share a picture of Jesus on social media or they don’t love Him.
Thankfully, those are not the only ways people know Christ followers, but those ways can be overwhelming and easier to notice at times. Even the in the past week, just reading in our newspaper, people could have viewed things like a garden being created for prisoners at the county jail and several other Passion Week projects. They could have also seen how members of most area denominations came together for community services each day this week. Those are things that do show the incredible love that believers want and need to show to the world around us.
If we aren’t known by our love for each other, how can others ever see us as God’s reflection of love and grace to them?
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with everything you’ve got and then love your neighbor as yourself.
What if we put that into practice? What if stopped worrying about silly stuff? What if we loved?
What would Easter be like?
James Phillips is editor and publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or email@example.com.