This article was originally published on April 2, 2021.
I started Holy Week, lamenting that I didn’t have a story of Jesus that reflected my understanding of the meaning of what happens this week that I could share with my 6-year-old son and his 6-year-old mind, heart and spirit. And so I wrote one. It was a good exercise, requiring a boiling down of 2,000 years of theology and almost three decades of ministry, to a little over 1,000 words to reveal what I really believe. I’m sure it will fall short to most readers, in one way or another and so I encourage you to write your own.
I was most focused and nervous about the reaction of my primary audience, Walter. He was playing a Star Wars video game that he is desperate to master when I interrupted him to read him the story of Jesus that I worked on for the past days. He listened, bouncing off of a stool, looking out the window, sitting down on the floor, before joining me on the couch. When I finished, I asked him what he thought, and he said, “Good,” and went back to his game.
But later, when we held hands at dinner, Walter spoke about Jesus and I was amazed. He started with: “It wasn’t about power, but it was about Love.” And he recited Jesus’ words about not judging and the golden rule. And he spoke about Jesus in the cage, which is what he heard, not cave, but which isn’t bad theology. Most importantly, we talked about God and Jesus. Period. In a letter that I wrote to him when he was born, I said that I don’t need for him to follow me in my beliefs, but that I wanted him to understand who Jesus was to me. When Walter was young, we took him to the Episcopal church that we belong to. Walter liked the sound of the word “Hallelujah” and would say it intermittently through the service, whether it was time or now. That was a few years ago, and he asked what Hallelujah meant when I read him the story a second time. And I told him, as we celebrated Easter together.
In the beginning, God created Heaven and Earth, and the sun and the stars, and every plant and every flower, and every animal and fish and it was all good. And God made human beings of every color, and gender, and size and shape. God loved every one of them equally and their hearts were part of God’s heart, and every person was very, very good.
God loved each person so that they would love one another and treat each person they met with kindness and respect. But some people chose to ignore that love – forgetting, or not caring, that each person carried a part of God’s heart. People began to be cruel, take more than their share, to hurt and sometimes even kill other people.
So, God sent his child Jesus, who came to our world as a vulnerable baby, born to a brave and glorious woman named Mary, and her gentle husband Joseph. Jesus came to the world not as a mighty warrior or a powerful, rich ruler, but instead as a brown skinned boy, in a poor, Jewish family, living in a land that had been conquered by an Emperor far away who did not care for the people. Jesus came to show a different kind of power to the world. The power of Love.
As Jesus grew older, he began to invite people to join together in the Way of Love and build God’s Beloved Community on earth. Jesus showed special love for those who the rest of the world shoved to the side – the poor, the sick the friendless, the outcasts. Women also had little power in the world when Jesus lived, but they were especially welcomed by Jesus and were his close friends. Anyone who the world decided had less value, those were the very ones that Jesus valued most.
Jesus went up to a mountain where many came to hear him. Jesus gave courage and hope to the poor, the meek, the hurting saying that God will bring them comfort, joy and freedom. Then Jesus taught them, ‘If you judge others, you too will be judged’, and God’s Golden Rule, to ‘Treat others as you would want to be treated.’ Jesus even taught the people to love their enemies. Jesus warned the rich and powerful that they must give up their power and their privilege and share what they have with others so that all would have enough. Jesus told them that they could not love their power and money, and love God at the same time.
Everything that Jesus was saying turned the world upside down. Instead of the rich, the poor were loved by God. Instead of the priests, it was the misfits that God loved. instead of the powerful Emperor, it was the people trying to be free that that God loved. Jesus became more popular and scared the rich, the religious rulers, and the powerful, and they began to watch Jesus carefully.
On a day that became known as Palm Sunday, Jesus held a parade, and rode into the big city on a donkey, and people made a special path for him out of palm leaves and sang his praise, grateful to him for all he had done. They were hopeful that with Jesus they might establish God’s Beloved Community right here on earth and they shouted, ‘Save us!” while the rulers watched and waited for their opportunity to stop him.
A few days later, on what is known as Maundy Thursday – Maundy being a word for Commandment – Jesus met with his best friends for a sacred meal on the upper floor of a house just outside the city. Jesus was sad, because he knew that one of his best friends was about to betray him to the rulers, and that another of his friends would soon deny that they knew him at all. But even though he knew this would happen, Jesus again spoke of Love and gave us the Great Commandment: that we must love one another if we are to follow in the Way of God. After dinner, he went out onto a nearby mountain to pray to God for strength to go through with what he knew would happen. Jesus was sad and asked his friends to stay up with him while he spoke with God, but they fell asleep, again and again. And while they were asleep, the friend who betrayed Jesus came back with soldiers, and they took Jesus away.
The next day, on what is known as Good Friday, Jesus was brought in front of both religious leaders and the representative of the Emperor. They accused him of trying to take their power away and talking to the people about a different vision for the world, one in which all people were equal, a world built on the foundation of love. They accused Jesus of preaching the end of their empire and the building of the Beloved Community. They accused him of being a new kind of ruler. Jesus did not deny it. Jesus was a different kind of Lord, one who did not seek power, but to serve, one who did not come to control, but to set free, one who did not come to sit on a throne, but to walk with the people in love. For the crime of love, the rulers whipped Jesus and put him on a cross to die.
Jesus hung on the cross for three hours, with women surrounding him at the foot of the cross. As he was dying, Jesus forgave those who were doing this to him. Jesus cried out to God, in his pain, in his thirst, in his sense of being alone. Finally, Jesus reached out to God, who had sent him to the world and said: “Into your hands I commend my Spirit” and breathed his last breath. The day is called ‘Good’ because Jesus and God showed that they know what it is to suffer and to be persecuted. With Jesus on the cross, every person who suffers knows that God suffers with them, and for every person persecuted by injustice and oppression, knows that God is in solidarity with them. The day is Good, because Jesus showed us that he loved us, even to death.
After his crucifixtion, Jesus’ body was taken down and put into a cave that served as a tomb. Three days later, the women who were with Jesus when he died, went to the cave to care for his body. When they got there, they saw that the tomb was empty, and that the body was no longer there! The women turned and saw someone who they thought was the gardener standing nearby. The person they thought was a gardener, asked them, “Why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” The women said, “They have taken our Lord and friend away, and we don’t know where they have put him. if you have carried him away, tell us where you have put him, and we will get him.” Then the man spoke to the women and said their names. It was not a gardener – it was Jesus, who had risen from death. The women knew him, felt his love once again and rejoiced that he had risen indeed, and the women ran to tell others of the resurrection of Jesus.
That is the Easter story. Jesus who had preached the power of love, rose from crucifixion and death to show to the world that love is more powerful than death. Jesus rose from the dead to let us know that the Love at our core, in our souls, does not die, even when our bodies do. Jesus rose from the dead to remind us that there is always hope, and that God’s love and justice is more powerful than rulers or any system that would keep people down. Together, we will rise! We celebrate Easter, because God’s son Jesus showed us that we are all part of God’s great Love, that liberates us in this life and follows us into the next. Jesus is with us and God’s love surrounds us today and every day. The great invitation to God’s Beloved Community continues, for you Walter and for all of us. Hallelujah.
American Civic Life