Dear Friends – The Meaning of Easter
I fear that the present day established church, of all denominations, is still living in the 1st Century and much, if not most, of what is being portrayed to the membership, from outdated hymns to 1st Century beliefs, in this day and age are no longer believable. In this article I will attempt to write a brief outline of what is, for me, a more believable meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection.
It is a fact that Jesus had to die – but not to save us from our sins and the ‘wrath of God’. Jesus had become a thorn in the flesh of the Romans and the Jewish religious authority. Turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple was the last straw.
The fact that Jesus was crucified proves that the Roman authority thought that he was trying to create an uprising against Rome, because crucifixion was only used for this sort of crime – lesser crimes were dealt with in other ways or forms of execution. The notion that Jesus died for our sins, as the only true understanding of the crucifixion, did not come about, to any great extent, for the first 1,000 years of Christian belief. The idea was first fully articulated in 1098 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anselm (1033-1109).
Further strength to the belief that Jesus died for our sins, was given when Jesus became understood as the new ‘Pascal lamb’, and also as the goat and lamb of ‘Yom Kippur’ – the Jewish Day of Atonement.
In Jewish folk-law, God had sent many plagues to make the Pharaoh free the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. When none of this accomplished God’s purpose, He consulted Moses and it was decided to send the ‘Angel of Death’ to pass over Egypt, to kill the first-born male of everyone from the Pharaoh down. To make sure that only Egyptian males were killed, the Jews were instructed to sacrifice a pure lamb and spread its blood over the doorposts of the houses where the Jews were sheltering. When the Angel of Death passed over these houses no males were killed; hence the name ‘Passover’.
The flesh of the lamb – now called ‘the Lamb of God’ – was now cooked. This is why Jesus became known as ‘the Lamb of God’; the earliest notion that we should eat ‘the Lamb of God’ – the flesh of Jesus.
Jesus was also known as both the goat and lamb of Yom Kippur. Each year at Yom Kippur two animals were selected, usually a goat and a lamb. The priest inspected the two animals to ensure that they were pure with no blemishes of any kind. The priest then took the lamb and after slaughtering it, sprinkled the blood over the people present – hence the phrase ‘washed in the blood of the Lamb of God’.
Following this, the priest took the goat by the horns and shook his head over it. Everyone else present also shook their heads in the direction of the goat. The reason for this was to symbolically shake their sins on to the back of the goat. The goat, now bearing everyone’s sins, was driven in to the wilderness, no doubt to be killed by wild beasts. This is where we get the phrase ‘scapegoat’ – someone taking the blame for the wrong that other people had done. After all this was over the people were considered to be free from sin, at least for that one day only.
Archbishop Anselm seems to be responsible for melding the Pascal Lamb and the lamb and goat of Yom Kippur into the meaning of the death of Jesus. In his death on the cross Jesus took on the sins of the world – the ‘scapegoat’. In like manner, when we take Communion, we symbolically eat Jesus’ flesh – the flesh of the Pascal Lamb and the lamb of Yom Kippur.
After his crucifixion, and according to the Bible, Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb and after three days he was raised from the dead. The whole of the Christian faith rests on this belief that Jesus was raised from the dead; if he wasn’t, then there is no truth in Christianity.
Many, if not the majority of, people nowadays do not believe that a dead body can come back to physical life – one of the many reasons for the fall in church membership.
For many Christians of a progressive 21st Century, understanding of what is meant by the resurrection is more the understanding of what Jesus’ life was all about – that loving one another is the way we should live our lives.
‘The Lord is risen – He is risen indeed’. This greeting, always used on Easter Day, didn’t mean that Jesus’ body had come back to life; it was the dawning of the meaning of Jesus’ life – that he opened to us the meaning of God, as the power to free us to live, to love and to be.
Much misunderstanding comes about because all of the Bible was written by Jews who had an understanding of ‘Midrash’, a Jewish mode of biblical interpretation. Christianity is now a religion of Gentiles, most of whom have little or no understanding of ‘Midrash’ and literalise things that were never meant to be taken literally.
I believe in the ‘Resurrection’, but it has nothing to do with Jesus’ body coming back to life again. I’ll leave you to ponder over that statement – maybe in another article I’ll try to explain something about ‘Midrash’.
Wishing you all a Happy Easter.