This isn’t an angry post as the title may imply. But it will be a bit of a rambling about my thoughts around how I not only view Easter, but Christian history in general. Somewhat murky and incoherent. Lent is now turned into Easter weekend and I find I’m reflecting on what that means to me. I know what the party line is of 21st century mainstream Christianity. Its about death and resurrection. Specifically good Friday is about when Jesus, after having been betrayed days before by Judas, was nailed to a cross where he very slowly and painfully died, thereby acting as a substitute sacrifice for a wretched humanity. Then rose from the dead 3 days later, overcoming death and proving his divinity….and stuff.
I like the season of Lent. Its a time for intentional contemplation, introspection and engaging with spirituality. I don’t however like Easter. I try, I really do. But I don’t like the popular story surrounding it, nor do I think its even particularly healthy. Now, to be sure, within modern Christianity you don’t have to believe in a literal physical resurrection, nor in the stand in human sacrifice to appease a blood thirsty God because the humans He created are too wretched to be accepted as they are without it. But even in the traditions that leave that open to interpretation, the language used in the liturgy explicitly sticks to that theme. Easter as a result, is my least favourite time of the liturgical year.
To me, I like to see not only if there are other ways to engage with religious traditions and holidays outside the mainstream view (seriously, when is mainstream *anything* authentic or valuable?) but specifically I like to look at its roots and see whats there. What was early Christianity like? How did or would they have viewed the “party line” of today? One thing I’ve learned is that “Christianity”, was never uniform in the early days particularly, much less so than today. What we see today was a development. Its not simply “Jesus dictated the gospels as we have them today in the Bible, that’s all that there is, and how we celebrate Christmas, Easter…do weddings, worship, is just as he wanted. Period.” Simply not true. At all.
There is for one thing, whether people like it or not, actually very little that we can know about Jesus or what he taught with any degree of certainty. The scriptures that exist about him were written decades, or in some cases a century or more after his death. His life and teachings were an oral tradition before that. I’m actually reading an interesting book on that topic at the moment, “Jesus Before the Gospels,”It deals with the topic of what we can know about how the oral tradition developed. What do we know about cultures that rely on oral traditions? How reliable are stories from those cultures? Is it true that they put such a high value on maintaining the story, that the story stays reliably intact as it was originally told? Actually it turns out, no. It really doesn’t work that way, particularly in that culture, and at that time, given the fact that they put much more importance on meaning than historical accuracy. The stories are embedded with meaning. Much richer meaning than is typically recognized in today’s churches or by today’s Christians. But accurate descriptions of Jesus’ life and accurate quotes from him? Nope.
There were also many manifestations, many “Christianities” right from the earliest days. As a result there were many gospels, many snippets of religious scripture about Jesus and his teachings, not just Mark, Matthew, Luke and John. There was the Gospel or Mary, the Gospel of Thomas,Gospel of Phillip, the Gospel of Judas (yes, that Judas) and many others. Many saying similar things, but sometimes they painted a radically different picture. With Easter for example, Judas for some early Christians was not a bad guy, but was thought of as a hero. And really, why wouldn’t he be? If Jesus whole reason for being born in the first place was to die on a cross, then Judas helped Jesus fulfill the will of God. He needed to be turned over to the Roman authorities for execution. Judas helped facilitate that, so why is he the bad guy? He was doing the will of God after all.
Jesus himself was viewed radically different by different Christian groups. There were those that viewed him as being the Bringer of Knowledge, and therefore equated him with the serpent in the Garden of Eden of the Jewish scripture. In that metaphorical story, man (Adam and Eve) was ignorant, so the serpent came and told them to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge so they would awake and gain wisdom. They would become enlightened. So they did, and they were. If Jesus was the Bringer of Wisdom that came to wake up humanity. Then he must have been the serpent in the story. That view would later become heresy when Christianity began coalescing into one *thing* centuries later , but it was an early view of some early Christians. Again, it makes sense to view it that way too, and I tend to like it personally over the current view of the serpent being Satan deceiving humanity. After all, in the story he was right. God had kept man ignorant, but the serpent wanted them to gain wisdom by eating the fruit. They ate it a woke up. Jesus was also viewed as having come to wake humanity up. Soo, they’re the same. The bringer of knowledge and wisdom. That in fact is how “Jesus saves”, by what he teaches, by the wisdom he encouraged his followers to gain for themselves. Not by simply believing the right things. Which, even in the cherry picked gospels in today’s Bible, Jesus didn’t seem to have a high opinion of belief for beliefs sake. Its what you did with that that mattered.
Some thought Jesus was a human, some thought he was mostly spirit. Some thought he died and rose from the dead, some thought he simply died. Some thought he was the serpent from the Garden of Eden come to bring knowledge and wake up humanity. Some thought he was the human form of God, some others that he was a magus. Someone trained and very adept in one of the schools of Egyptian magic that was prevalent in that region at the time.
So Easter…like all of Christianity right from our earliest records, is a mystery. There was no “orthodoxy”, that was a centuries later development in an attempt to make it uniform in order to have it a more effective imperial religion. Easter in my view can be engaged with however people see fit. How do they view Jesus? All are as “authentic” as another. For me? As typical to how I view most things, I don’t like the mainstream, nor do I like toeing the party line because someone, somewhere thinks I should. Whatever you think of Jesus and who he really was, or what he should represent, there is no doubt that the simple fact that he lived changed the course of human civilization for thousands of years.
Easter for me I think isn’t about sin. Its not about how wretched and miserable little creatures we are and that God somehow finds it in Her heart to love us anyway. It is about a personal resurrection of sorts. Of engaging with the what little can be known about the mysterious Bringer of Knowledge and what he may represent. What does that mean? Who was he? He’s an idea much bigger than the man. But I’ll save that for another time.