To many non-Christians, and many Christians really, Easter is nothing more than a zombie story that does not include the literal eating of brains.
But that is if you read the story literally: that Jesus literally only physically rose from the dead, which is something that I have always struggled with.
But as someone who does not see the point in looking and searching for biblical fact, rather than biblical truth, I always look for what is the truth in the biblical narrative.
Last night, the Saturday before Easter, my fiancée and I were out on a date and we saw the movie “Oz The Great and Powerful,” the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz.” I could not, and nor could Kelley, stop thinking about all of the Christological images in the film. (What this means, is how does the image of Jesus or how does the story of Jesus paralleled or easy metaphors are drawn from another story)
Careful spoiler alerts ahead
One of the greatest images was Oz, the Wizard (played by James Franco), when he had drawn up this huge plan to rid the kingdom of Oz of the wicked witches.
In this plan, Oz decides to make his “death” a great trick.
But what made this story very Christological for me, was in his resurrection.
In his resurrection you see the first time that the Wizard does his trick of hiding behind a curtain and with that face in the smoke.
But in his resurrection the people become excited; they were afraid that they had lost their wizard, they were afraid that they were going to have fight evil on their own.
So that is enough of a summary… if you haven’t, go see it. It’s not the best movie, but it’s okay. Worth seeing, just because it’s fun.
But Oz had to die, so that the kingdom of Oz could be all it could be.
Oz had to resurrect so that the kingdom of Oz would realize that their wizard and king would be with them always.
Oz had to die because the people had to fight evil on their own.
Oz had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.
Oz had to die and resurrect in order to become the wizard that the people of Oz believed him to be.
Just as Jesus had to so that the realm of God could be all that it could be.
Jesus has to resurrect sot that the realm of God would realize that their Christ would be with them always.
Jesus had to die because people have to fight evil on their own (whatever that evil may be).
Jesus had to resurrect to give people the courage and strength to fight evil on their own.
Jesus had to die and resurrect in order to become the messiah, the Christ, that we believed him to be.
But in Jesus’ death and resurrection, just like Oz’s death and resurrection, we and the people of Oz have to fight evil on our own.
The people of Oz had to fight the oppression of living under the wicked witches. We have to fight the oppression that we cause. We have to fight the evil that is poverty, that is hunger, that is war and violence, that is abuse, that is human trafficking, that is sexism, that is racism, that is homophobia, the list goes on and on.
But it is us, the church that have to fight it.
We might have something greater than us to look to, but we have to do it. As the community of the church. As the living body of Christ.
In the death and resurrection it makes it possible for people like Paul to say things like “I can do all things through Christ,” and makes it possible for the Wizard to say “With your faith in each other, anything is possible.”
We can, as a community of faith, do anything. But we have to realize that Jesus is physically dead, but resurrected in the body of the church.
We the church make Jesus the messiah that we say he is.
We the church make it possible to fight evil in our world, even when we can only see Jesus off in the clouds in some way.
We the church make it possible for the realm of God to be realized here on earth.
This Easter, my hope is that we look to the resurrection not as proof of something about Jesus, but rather as a symbol that Jesus is with us and we can fight evil.
Good Friday is the day in which Christians around the world reflect on the death of Jesus Christ.
Christians will weep, Christians will rejoice, Christians will sit and be confused: “How is this what we focus on?”
I am one of those who will be in church on Good Friday, and wonder: “How is the death of a man what we focus on?”
There are some things that I understand about the day that Jesus was killed to be true and factual.
1.) Jesus’ death was not unique from any other capital punishment of the Roman Empire of his time. If you do not know this, just ask the question: Well, what were those other two guys doing?
2.) Jesus was not killed by the Jews. Jesus was killed by the Roman Empire. Some Jews might have opted for Barrabas, as ALL JEWS WERE NOT PRESENT.
I think this accurately describes what happened that day:
3.) Jesus continued to minister to his context even into his last moments.
My understanding of the cross is a reminder to the world of the injustice that we cause on a daily basis.
In the death of Jesus we are reminded of those who have been killed unjustly.
In the death of Jesus we are reminded that humanity continues to fail each other.
That’s it. To me, the cross is that.
I do not believe we are saved by the actions of the unjust Roman Empire and their decision to kill a local celebrity.
I do not believe that Jesus was called by God to die, although Jesus’ humanity would require him to die at some point.
But as a person who says that if you say you don’t believe in something, you have to counteract that with a what you do believe statement:
I DO BELIEVE that in the act of the death of Jesus we learn a little bit more of what the realm of God looks like. What exactly is God’s ultimate dream for creation.
In what is called the “Seven Sayings of Jesus on the Cross” we see these things:
1.) Matthew 27:46: “My God why have you forsaken me?” I start with this, because it is the first in the canonical order; but also because it is a question that Jesus poses to God. No matter how much we think we have accomplished, no matter how well our life may be lived, at the end of it all, we do not think we have accomplished enough. Jesus is no different. Jesus feels forsaken maybe because he does not feel like he accomplished enough in his lifetime. And so Jesus cries out God, “Why have you forsaken me? This death is proof that I have not accomplished enough.”
2.) Luke 23: 34: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus is giving us the image of God’s dream that we are to forgive people… even when they kill us in the most violent way they can possibly imagine.
3.) Luke 23: 43: “Truly I tell you, you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus tells this to a criminal. Jesus gives the image that in the realm of God there is space for us all. We do not know anything of the situation or circumstance of the criminals on the cross with Jesus, but all we know, is that Jesus does not judge, Jesus gives words of comfort and affirmation.
4.) John 19: 26-27: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” In this, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, the disciple that he loved, to take care of his mother. In a context where widows and childless women have no one to care for them, Jesus shows us that in the realm of God we will all take care of each other, and that in the realm of God, all have women have children, and all children have mothers.
5.) John 19:28: “I am thirsty.” Jesus tells those around him that he is thirsty. In the realm of God, thirst will be no more.
6.) Luke 23: 46: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” In the realm of God our bodies will no longer be the shells of injustice in which we are trapped. The pain that our bodies create will not be something that hinders us.
7.) John 19: 30: “It is finished.” The last words of Jesus Christ. Showing to us that in the realm of God suffering is finished. In that moment when, what I imagine him, whispering “It is finished,” Jesus says that this suffering is over. No more will Jesus feel physical pain.
What if the church remembered the 7 sayings of Jesus?
Many churches are in the dying stages of their ministry. Just like Jesus on Calvary.
What if the church remembered:
1.) That in the life span of this congregation, that enough has not been done.
2.) To forgive the people who do damaging things within the church. Forgive the treasurer who embezzled all that money. Forgive that homeless person who has on multiple occasions came and begged in the parking lot after church service. Forgive the pastor who was a bit to experimental for the comfort zone of the congregation.
3.) That in the church there is room for all people. For the people who are on crosses today. The criminals. The people who are marginalized. People who are LGBT.
4.) That the church is to take care of those who have no one else to take care of them.
5.) That the church is to be that place where thirst no longer exists. Where people’s most basic needs are met.
6.) That the church is not something that hinders us. The body of Christ (the church) should not hinder us from expressing agape, from being agents of God.
7.) The church must remember that when it is over, it is over. Sometimes things die. And just as Jesus admitted to his own mortality, so must churches.
This Good Friday, my hope is that you think about what it means to be a church in the realm of God.
Imagine this. You are sitting at a table with your friends and colleagues on a feast holiday, and then one of them stands up.
He is the leader of your crew, who constantly talks about how things are going to be better for the world.
He takes his robe off, and wraps it around his waist.
He grabs a tub of water, and then gets on his knees.
He grabs your nasty feet that are covered in dirt, mud, waste, and anything else disgusting that just happens to be on the streets.
He then washes your feet.
You try to kick him away, but he is holding pretty tight, and says to you: “I am not here to be served, but to serve you.”
He then washes all of your friends feet.
After this you all eat your meal, enjoy each other’s company and drink wine.
Laughing and carrying on. After all this is a feast of celebration.
The meal is about over and he stands up again.
As he stands after the meal he reaches over the table and grabs a loaf of bread.
And as he grabs it he looks at all of you. He waves it in front of you making some weird gestures.
Then he does something really weird, he says: “You see this bread? Anytime you eat bread remember me. Remember what I have taught you. Remember what I have done. Remember this bread as a symbol of my body.”
You are confused. Why is he telling us to remember him every time that we eat?
While you are trying to figure out what all of this means, he grabs the bottle of wine, which at this point is almost empty, because you and your friends have been celebrating.
As he holds the wine in front of you, he pours into a cup and says: “This cup will be a reminder of the blood that is going to come from me. Every time you drink wine, remember my blood.”
You sit stunned. Not knowing what in the world just happened.
You go back to your meal, awkwardly looking at your friends who are all confused.
When all of a sudden the door is kicked in, and one of your friends give a kiss to your leader, and then he is arrested.
He tells you not to worry as he is carried out of the house.
We know what happens on Friday. But Jesus’ friends and disciples did not know what would happen the next day.
Maybe they thought he was just going to be released. Maybe they knew that he would be killed in the traditional Roman way.
But they would not understand what his message at the feast was really about.
They would soon find out, that the bread would be a physical symbol of a man who would no longer be on this earth. That the wine was going to be a symbol of a man’s blood who was going to killed in an inhumane way.
They would find out the man who had washed their feet the way a slave would was showing them that the world is not their servant, but they are to serve the world.
For the disciples, the meal would be a real reminder of the friend and leader that they had.
But 2000 years later, what do the events at that meal represent?
Every time we eat bread we are called to remember Jesus. Remembering what it is that he taught his followers and the actions he took in his ministry.
Every time we take a bite of food we should be reminded that Jesus called us to heal the sick. Jesus called us to clothe the naked. To visit the imprisoned (Matthew 25: 34-46). When we eat we are reminded to do micro-level, kind works of charity.
Every time we drink we are reminded of Jesus’ death. No matter common it was in his time it was. We are reminded that injustice is far too common. We are reminded of the blood of all people who are killed unjustly. We are reminded of the death of children who cannot feed themselves. We are reminded of women everywhere who are abused and raped. We are reminded that over a billion people in this world do not have access to clean drinking water. We are reminded that the cost to export food leaves those who cultivate that food too impoverished to buy that food for themselves, and are left starving with plenty of food right in front of them. When we drink we are reminded to do works of greater justice, to end hunger, to end thirst, to end disease, to end violence. We are reminded to do justice in the world.
Whenever we hear the story of Jesus washing his disciples feet we are reminded that we are to be humble, and to understand that we are not to be served by the world. But rather to serve the world. That no one is below us. Rather we are below the world, always looking up and looking for the next inequity in our broken world.
On Maundy Thursday, we are reminded of Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
This Maundy Thursday, my hope is that you realize that Jesus was not here for us to serve him. But for us to learn from him, through his example, through his death, through his resurrection, that we are called to do justice, do acts of kindness, and to be humble.
The church needs to remember this call. For far too long the church thought the world is to serve the church, however the church is the servant to the world.
The next time you eat, you drink, and someone serves you, remember that the one who served you is not your servant, but you are their’s. The food you are eating is a reminder to feed the world. The drink you are drinking is a reminder to end injustice in the world.