Without Easter

EASTER - tomb

by  Diane Rufino

Have you ever thought of what it would be like if Jesus hadn’t been born, hadn’t assembled a group of loyal disciples and followers, hadn’t taught his lessons of love and forgiveness and charity, hadn’t been executed on the cross, and hadn’t risen? When he traveled and taught, he was the Son of Man. He belonged to the People, as their teacher. But when he rose from the dead, he was the Son of God. He was the new and everlasting covenant with the Father, forever and ever.

Without Easter, we would have no hope of heaven. We would have no hope of sharing in God’s kingdom. We could only hope for a righteous and blessed life here on Earth, for whatever that life and fate happens to deal us.

Without the hope of heaven, there would be no repentance, no personal transformation, no inherent obligation to love and help one another, and no attempt to follow biblical principles. We would miss out on the true meaning of life which is the love and fullness that other human beings bring to our existence.

Without Easter, we would lose our way in this world of sin, temptation, chaos, and darkness. Jesus’ death and resurrection. One mistake, one moment of weakness, would condemn us to eternal damnation and a permanent separation from God our Father. Feeling that permanent separation would send us on a downward spiral, for we would believe our Father had already condemned and turned His back on us. Believing that he have lost His love would strip away our moral compass.

But because of Easter, we can be reborn. We have a reason to live better, to do better, to love stronger, and to reflect His shining light into the shadows and minimize the darkness. We can live the life that God intended — as humble witnesses to his love. We can do all these things because even though we are sinners by nature, immersed in an increasingly sinful and tempting world, we are forgiven of our misdeeds because God wants the relationship to continue and to flourish. A person can’t help but be humbled by a love that is so great and unconditional.

Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice not only that we who believe will have an eternal relationship with God but also that we may be encouraged to live our lives to the fullest – to be better, to do better, and to love stronger. Remember, in Jesus’ eyes, ALL LIVES MATTER !

HAPPY EASTER, Everyone. May you feel the love today and every day.

EASTER - Jesus (from THE BIBLE movie

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EASTER MESSAGE

Jesus - has risen (Luke)    by Diane Rufino

The crucifixion of Jesus and His resurrection are personal.  Every Easter we are reminded of His love for us and his intention that the bonds between us and God need not necessarily be severed because of our inability to remain sinless in a wickedly sinful world.  I may not have the greatest grasp of the religion I follow, but I firmly believe that God’s intentions for us are not defined by Man or the ambitions of religious leaders, but rather, by the events that we celebrate at Easter time. The series of events began with Palm Sunday (when Jesus entered Jerusalem proclaiming himself to be the messiah), to Holy Thursday (preparing for the new church with the Last Supper), to Good Friday (his mortal death), and finally to Easter Sunday (the Resurrection).  He died to make religion a personal relationship with God.  Although it was the Jewish leaders at the time who pushed for and instigated for his trial and sentence, it was for the benefit of sinners that Jesus ultimately committed to the path which would lead to his death on the cross.  Matthew 20: 28 reminds us: “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Ransom is defined as the practice of offering something of value for the release of someone held prisoner.  It was once understood that our sins condemned us and prevented us from an eternal relationship with God.  We were prisoners on account of our sinful nature.  And then Jesus offered himself as a ransom for us. He offered his perfect being to renegotiate our relationship with God.  The ransom – the gift of his teachings and then the tragedy of his torturous death – was offered in fulfillment of scripture.  The resurrection was the acceptance by God of that ransom.  The covenant was made.  It was made for our benefit.  It was made for you and for me, and not because we belong to a specific church or not.  It was made without precondition and without a church even formed.

Offers and acceptances are made every day, to secure promises and make them ironclad.  Perhaps it is the lawyer in me that sees the promise in the events of Easter.  Jesus offered himself for the sins of man. And God accepted that offer. Although he was the Son of God, he still retained his free will to the end.  He prayed and reflected on what he should do, and we know what he hoped wouldn’t be asked of him. In the end, he willingly accepted his fate. On Easter Sunday, when Jesus was raised from the dead, the covenant was complete.  “The blood of the new and everlasting Covenant.”  It had to be something audacious to demonstrate the divine hand of God.

When we think of Easter, we instinctively recall that God sacrificed his only Son for our sins.  In thinking of Easter in these terms, I am reminded of the account in the Bible when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son.

God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, his only son Isaac, the only child of his beloved wife Sarah, the son promised to him by God.  As a show of his unwavering faith, he took his son to the region of Moriah, built an altar and arranged the wood on it.  He then bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. As he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son, an angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, and instructed him to stop.

The point was for Abraham to demonstrate that he trusted God completely.  God was testing his faith, his loyalty, and perhaps his love.  He refused to allow Abraham to carry through with the act because He doesn’t believe we should be tested by pitting our love for one another, especially our children, against our love for Him.

And yet, that is exactly what God did for us at Calgary (aka, Golgotha).  He sacrificed his Son, born of flesh and blood, and without sin, for us sinners.

Jesus endured hours of unspeakable brutality at the hands of the Romans.  And then, he suffered unimaginable agony on the cross for almost six hours, hanging against a wooden cross with large nails through his flesh with the weight of his body burdening his respiration.  By 3:00 in the afternoon, Jesus knew that the hour was finally at hand, and in fulfillment of the scriptures, he said, “I’m thirsty.”  A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so a sponge was soaked in it and held up to his lips. When he had tasted it, he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head and dismissed his spirit.

How could we sinners be worthy of such a perfect sacrifice?  Just as the sacrifice was proof of Abraham’s faith and loyalty, Jesus’ death was likewise a sacrifice.  It is proof of God’s eternal love for us and his sincere promise to share eternal blessings with us who believe.  He wants to share His kingdom of Heaven with us, even when we are not all that we can – should – be.

Easter reminds us of God’s relentless desire for our heart and soul.  He sent His only son to suffer and die to make that clear to us.  The cross reminds us of that unconditional love….. the compact; the Covenant; the promise.  Again, that act was personal.

There should be no greater reason to live life to the fullest and with the greatest intentions than because of the selfless act – the sacrifice – at Calgary.  Yes, sometimes life is tough and there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles to happiness and self-worth, but when those doubts creep in, we should remember what Jesus went through to show how much he believes each of us are worth and how costly that price was.

An Easter Reflection

Jesus - bloody

by Diane Rufino

I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very blessed Good Friday – Easter week-end.

Beginning yesterday, Holy Thursday, an innocent man was taken into custody to answer to trumped up charges and to be eventually be executed in order to spare the temple High Priests from being challenged in their power.  Yet in these sad, unfortunate chain of events, prophecy was fulfilled and we have the opportunity to establish a kingdom on Earth but even more, we can have eternal life with our Father in heaven.

We remind ourselves of the last moments of Jesus’ life and ministry:

Holy Thursday  —

Mid-day: Jesus’ disciples prepare the upper room for the Passover meal.

About 6 pm: Our Savior begins the Passover meal with his disciples.  After the institution of the Eucharist and the reception of communion by all twelve of the Apostles (and our Lord himself), Judas receives the dipped morsel (which was not the Eucharist, but simple bread) and departs.

About 8 pm: Jesus goes forth to the Garden of Gethsemane.

About 9 pm: Judas leads the soldiers to Jesus and the other apostles. Our Lord is arrested.  (the priests were afraid to arrest him during the Passover — because a public arrest could have triggered a riot from the crowds.

All flee, excepting Sts. Peter and John.

From 9 pm till midnight: Jesus is brought first to Annas and then to Caiaphas. These are the first two trials which our Lord undergoes. The trial before Caiaphas is often called the “Night Trial before the Sanhedrin”.

During the trial at the house of Annas, St. Peter denies Jesus the first time.

During the trial before Caiaphas, St. Peter denies the Lord twice more. The cock crows, and Peter flees weeping.

It is here that the Temple guards blindfold our Lord and strike him, asking him to prophecy for them.

Our Lord spends the evening in the dungeon of Caiaphas’ house.

Good Friday —

6 am: The Lord is brought to a brief trial before the Sanhedrin. They send him directly to Pilate.

Immediately after Jesus is sent forth from the Sanhedrin to Pilate, Judas returns to the chief priests, regretting his betrayal. Returning the money, Judas departs and hangs himself (probably before noon).

From 6 am to 9 am: The fourth trial now, which is before Pilate, is very brief. The Lord is sent to Herod (the fifth trial) and then back to Pilate. The second time before Pilate is the occasion of the more extensive questioning of Jesus by Pilate, including the infamous question: What is truth? (John 18:38)

The fifth trial (which is before Pilate) is when the Jews choose Barabbas over Jesus.

About 10 am: The crowds ask for Jesus to be crucified.  Jesus is scourged, crowned with thorns, cloaked in purple, and mocked.

Then, taking up the Cross, our Savior begins the journey to Golgotha.

A little before noon: Jesus reaches Golgotha, the “place of the skull.”

Then, he is stripped and nailed to the Cross.

From noon until 3 pm: Our Lord hangs, crucified upon the blessed Cross. Darkness covers the land.

3 pm: Jesus dies. The veil of the Temple is split in two. The earth shakes.

A little before 5 pm: St. Joseph of Arimathea courageously goes to Pilate and requests the body of Jesus. To prove that our Lord has expired, the centurian thrusts a lance through Christ’s side – blood and water pour forth.

Jesus’ body is prepared for burial by Nicodemus, the women, and his Mother.

Before 6 pm: Our Savior is laid in the tomb. A stone is sealed across the entrance.

Easter Sunday —

Just before 6 am: Without any seeing or knowing, our Lord rises from the dead.

6 am: The women come to the tomb and, seeing an angel roll back the stone, realize that our Lord had risen and come forth from the sealed tomb during that most blessed night.

Jesus - carrying cross

We recount the brutality and horror and indifference that surround Jesus’ passion and crucifixion and wonder why it had to happen.

Crucifixion was a widespread and exceedingly common form of execution that was used in ancient history by the Persians, Indians, Assyrians, Scythians, Greeks, and most famously by the Romans. Since Jerusalem was under Roman control at the time, crucifixion was the punishment of choice for capital crimes and for extreme political crimes such as treason, rebellion, and sedition.  [In 63 BC, Pompey Magnus, one-time friend and co-ruler with Julius Caesar, conquered Jerusalem, the seat of the Jewish faith, and incorporated Judea into the Roman Empire. The High Priest was allowed to remain in power and the temple to continue its function… as long as it played its role in paying tribute – and high taxes – to Rome].

A movement would then begin to encourage Jews to evict Rome from the Holy Land and restore independence to their land. This movement would cause Roman prefects to rule with a hard hand and to use fear and violence to deal with the Jews who incited rebellion against Roman rule. That’s why precepts such as Pontius Pilate presided as judges at trials for those who were accused as rebels, or charged with sedition (including blasphemy that led or would potentially lead to sedition – as in Jesus’ case).  And crucifixion would be the punishment.

It was Rome that conventionalized crucifixion as a form of state punishment, creating uniformity in the process.  So commonplace was crucifixion in the Roman Empire that Cicero (Roman senator) referred to it as “that plague.”  It would probably be incorrect to refer to crucifixion to be referred to as a “death penalty: because in most cases, the victim was first executed and then nailed to the cross.  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal as it was to serve as a deterrent to others who might defy the state. For that reason, crucifixions were always carried out in public – at crossroads, in arenas, on hills, or on high ground (like Golgotha)….  anywhere where the population had no choice but to bear witness to the gruesome scene. The criminal was always left hanging long after he died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the entire point of crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten (and warn) the witness, the corpse would be left where it hung to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by various birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a heap of trash, which is actually how Golgotha (the site of Jesus’ crucifixion) earned its name: “the place of skulls.”  Simply put, crucifixion was more than a capital punishment for Rome; it was a public reminder of what happens when one challenges the empire. That is why it was reserved for the most extreme of political crimes (treason, rebellion, sedition, etc).  Scourging, a practice by the Romans, was a brutal form of torture that served not only to inflict intense pain but also to further humiliate the victim. Also, it will help attract the wild animals to the corpse.

Jesus - scourged

If one knew nothing else about Jesus of Nazareth, the fact that he was crucified by Rome would tell you why he was killed. His offense to the empire as evident by the plaque that was placed above his head for all to see: “King of the Jews.”  Jesus crime was daring to assume kingly ambitions and challenge Roman rule.

When we confess, as Paul taught us, that “Christ died for our sins,” what do we mean?  Do we mean that God required the vicious murder of his Son in order to forgive us?  Did God have some scale of torture that once met would “satisfy his wrath?”  When we ask if his death had to be by crucifixion and if torture had to be part of the equation, we can understand the answers by the customs of the time.

The crucifixion was a catastrophe. It was the unjust lynching of an innocent man. The Apostles said as much in Acts:  “This Jesus…you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” –Acts 2:23

“The Bible is clear, God did not kill Jesus. Jesus was offered as a sacrifice in that the Father was willing to send his Son into our sinful system in order to expose it as utterly sinful and provide us with another way. The death of Jesus was a sacrifice in that sense. But it was not a sacrifice to appease a wrathful deity or to provide payment for a penultimate god subordinate to Justice.”

“We violently sinned our sins into Jesus, and Jesus revealed the heart of God by forgiving us. When Jesus prayed, ‘Father, forgive them,’ he was not asking God to act contrary to his nature. When Jesus prayed, ‘Father, forgive them,’ he was, as always, revealing the very heart of God!”

Jesus - on cross

Jesus’ agony and death on the cross is not about the appeasement of a monster god but of a generous offer to have an eternal relationship with a loving God.  At the cross we see where Adam and Eve’s original decision to turn from God, Cain’s capacity for killing his own brother, and the sin that has since plagued man has led us…   to the murder of Jesus.  But in that death is a covenant.

“The cross is about the revelation of a merciful God. At the cross we discover a God who would rather die than kill his enemies. The cross is where God in Christ absorbs sin and recycles it into forgiveness. The cross is not what God inflicts upon Christ in order to forgive. The cross is what God endures in Christ as he forgives. Once we understand this, we know what we are seeing when we look at the cross: We are seeing the lengths to which a God of love will go in forgiving sin.”

As we celebrate the passion and crucifixion, and then the resurrection of Jesus, let us understand that we can now live in Peace.

 Jesus - resurrection

References:
Brian Zahnd, “How Does ‘Dying for Our Sins’ Work?”, April 16, 2014.  Referenced at:  http://brianzahnd.com/2014/04/dying-sins-work/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+brianzahnd+%28BrianZahnd.com%29

Reza Aslan, ZEALOT: The Life and Times of Jesus.  Random House (2013).