Crucifixion, chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies
I saw a silent, solemn Church procession going by yesterday heading towards the local church on my road. It was a re-enactment of the crucifixion scene with men dressed as Roman centurions and others carrying a large wooden cross.
It got me thinking...
The 2000 year-old story of Easter - that incorporates the betrayal of Christ (the son of God), his last supper and the gruesome torture which led to his barbaric, painful death - is incredibly graphic as a narrative and leaves a lasting impression on one's consciousness. You only have to watch Gibson's The Passion of The Christ (2004) to see what a horrific process of death and dying was inflicted upon those who were considered a threat to the Roman empire or its host of beliefs and practices.
But from a purely sceptical standpoint (of 'aggressive secularism', if you like) the story is highly absurd and, like many religious stories, rather nonsensical. It's full of holes, contradictions, inconsistencies and, most of all - improbabilities.
On the one hand, we see twelve grown, fairly sane, intelligent men who decide to abandon their normal lifestyles, their careers and their families to 'follow' a man who simply declares he is the son of God and that the only way anyone will gain salvation is through him and him alone. And these are clear thinking men - Matthew (tax collector), Bartholomew (a scholar in law), Judas (treasurer), Simon (political activist), Thomas (a cynic who refuses to accept without questioning) and a number of fishermen involved in manly work who call a spade a spade.
The point I'm making is that these are worldly men and can't be easily persuaded. They're the type who weigh up evidence, look at facts and make judgements accordingly. Why they decide to believe Jesus - and not others who must have come by saying the same thing - is never fully explained in any of the Gospels.
It troubles me that they're not a little wary at the thought of supporting a seemingly mortal being who says he is God - let alone follow him by abandoning everything in the material/physical world. And yet they do. These men, who are relatively educated, simply get up and follow him blindly.
How improbable is that given their backgrounds?
And that's not all. The means in which the message is delivered by Jesus - is actually rather radical. This is not the Lamb but the Lion. He challenges rather violently the very core of Judaism by stating, in no uncertain terms, that not only is he the direct descendent of David and hence part of that unique, royal linage but that he is God. Not a king, not a prophet, but God!
This isn't just a minor inconsequential departure from the old Abrahamic scriptures but a blatant abandonment of everything in the Old Testament, the heart of Judaism. Jesus attacks the teaching of the rabbis, overturns the tables outside the synagogues, forgives people on behalf of God and even allows prostitutes to wash his feet. And not only does he challenge the Ten Commandments but he rectifies them and thereby overthrowing the authority of Moses.
This is hardly the stuff of modesty, diplomacy or compromise. This is actually a call to arms made in the most dramatic, public manner imaginable.
Clearly this is not quite the Jesus we're presented with - the mild, the meek, the peace-loving, the forgiving, the humble and the understated as symbolized by his coming into Jerusalem on a donkey on Palm Sunday. This is an actor or a political activist out to overthrow - if not destroy - the basis of Judaism.
But I am also rather disturbed by the fact that there is very little reference to the final scene in the New Testament.
Imagine that you, as a disciple, are there at the crucifixion. Surely you would record the ultimate dramatic moment when Jesus forgives one of the two thieves on the cross. And yet of the four disciples whose accounts go into the New Testament, only one refers to Jesus forgiving the thief. Samuel Beckett in his brilliant play Waiting for Godot also depicts the oddity of this. This omission seems so incongruous in the context of the story which is essentially about the transcendental sacrifice and death.
But that too seems rather absurd.
To me it's difficult to fathom why God should have to sacrifice his son - his only son - to die for our sins. God surely can forgive just by saying 'I forgive'. And if Jesus is paying for our sins, to whom is he paying? Himself? Why mankind should have to witness the ordeal or, as Ted Hughes once referred to, 'the monumental trial of senseless suffering', is anyone's guess. So the other thief is right in a way. 'If you are the son of God, why don't you save yourself and us?' he taunts Jesus.
And if Jesus is crucified three days before the Sabbath (when he rises) that really means he must have died on Wednesday afternoon not on Good Friday (and why should that be 'good'? - it certainly isn't for Jesus, that's for sure!). And if we are going to assume he dies on Friday then he couldn't have arisen on Sabbath but Monday afternoon at the very earliest. The discovery of the absent tomb couldn't have been made until Tuesday morning. Surely.
Why we carry on putting our faith in a manufactured story, a clear fabrication, is beyond me. It seems to me, it's all for the sake of modernity and cultural convenience to instil fear of divine retribution. And that applies equally to all religions not just Christianity.
The Easter story is a lovely mish-mash of absurd ideas and fiction. It looks good as a piece of theatre, vivid and shocking, something you can take to the streets on Good Friday like a morality play. But to me, that's all it is. It has very little basis in facts or probability.
And as for chocolate eggs and Easter rabbits, don't even get me started!