Jesus’s resurrection is the central point of the Christian faith, and for those who hold that faith, it is the most important moment in human history. “Whether Jesus merely was or whether he also is, depends on the resurrection” Pope Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth II.
The Easters of my childhood in the Catholic Church were all about joy. We accepted on faith that Jesus of Nazareth was born, he lived, he was murdered and he arose from the dead three days later. It wasn’t until around age ten that my relentless questioning about all things mysterious took over and I began to doubt that literal account of The Resurrection.
My favorite flower to this day is the velvety calla lily with its yard long stalk and ivory curves that elicit a forbidden sensuality for a child once searching for piety. It was the flower the girls of confirmation age carried down the center aisle during the Holy Thursday procession. Their white dresses punctuated the assumed purity of their spirits.
My memories are of cloying incense that made me queasy as I tried hard to make my child’s body hold still during the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday. The purple vestments of mourning the priests wore were reflected in the purple shroud draped around the giant crucifix above the altar.
I can still sing all the words to the rousing hymns reserved for Easter morning masses:
Christ has risen from the dead
Risen as He truly said
It is actually one of my many earworms, those songs you discover yourself humming or whistling at the most inappropriate times, like the Fourth of July or Tuesday.
Even more thrilling than the elaborate Easter basket I had discovered behind the sofa or in the hall closet that morning and the orgy of candy consumption allowed on that day and Halloween only, was the much anticipated “Easter outfit.” Everything on my body that Sunday at mass was brand spanking new. My hair had been tortured into Shirley Temple curls the day before so that the flower laden bonnet on my head was set off just so.
I still love new clothes, new shoes and new hair dos. And calla lilies.
All the rest has been packed away among the traditions I used to believe in. I believe there was a man on Earth 2012 years or so ago who was probably called Jesus, and I believe he was a very special man. I believe he was persecuted, not necessarily for what he said and did, but for what the things he said and did made the people who listened say about him – that he was the messiah. I believe he was crucified, which was the executioner’s method of choice at the time, and I believe he died on that cross.
I don’t think it matters whether Jesus’s dead and shrouded body left that tomb through normal means like stealing or by a miracle granted by God. I know it matters very much to those whose entire faith is based solely on that one event. But to me, what matters is the teachings of the man who was Jesus of Nazareth like these from his Sermon on the Mount:
The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12)
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.
If every person who claims to be Christian would remind himself or herself of these eight simple recipes for a good life; if each would concentrate on making himself or herself the best person possible and not try to control the thoughts and behavior of others; if justice could come to mean what is fair and just for ALL people; then,for the first time since his violent death on that cross, the spirit that was once Jesus of Nazareth could finally have a Happy Easter. Let’s start now.