Signs of a Delusional Mind
These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
reflections on lent: easter
For an outsider, it may appear as though Advent is the most important time of the Christian calendar. Despite the fact that both seasons are allotted their own portion of weeks, it is during the Christmas period we see many more cues of an arrival. Nativity scenes become prevalent along with the increasing number of 'True Reason for the Season' advertisements. A large sample of people would likely be able to recognise the God-child as the underpinning concept for celebrations in December - even if they relegate Him to a sentiment of universal love and tolerance.
In Spring none of the dualistic qualities of December seem to exist. The overarching impressions are those of chocolate, bunnies - chocolate bunnies! - as well as painted eggs and long weekends. For Easter, unlike Christmas, the original pagan themes and images seem to endure prominently and overwhelmingly. While at Christmas there is somewhat of a coexistence of both Christmas and the Holidays, at Lent there appears only the festival of Eostre - the goddess of fertility worshipped by pagans in spring - and its images. First century Christians largely employed the symbols of a shepherd carrying a lamb on its shoulders, as well as a fish (often two, in fact). Additional symbols found among early Christian catacombs were palm leaves, peacocks, a dove, an anchor, bread and chalices of wine (or a bundle of grapes); it was not until the empire under Constantine in the fourth century that the cross became a popular representation of the faith. Today it is essentially the only symbol of Christianity used, oft-times bejeweled and gilded - easily digestabe. Yet at this time of year it is scarce at best.
This time of year is supposed to be vitally important for us as Jesus-followers, but what Christian themes arise and which Christian images persist? In what way do we distinguish these holy days from not only the rest of our calendar, but also from the rest of the world's Eostre celebrations?
Lent is a sombre season, observing and commemorating the life of God as a man, which culminated in His death and resurrection. It is a time of introspection and as a result has become, in some ways, privatised. Further, the church seems to be afraid to boast in this, despite its unabashed zeal for proclaiming the Christ-baby in December.
But this makes sense: Lent has a hard message. When we seriously think about what we're observing, we ourselves may even be taken aback. Do we, as believers, fully understand what's going on?
We know the overall details of Jesus' last days. We know the anxiety, the celebratory meal where Jesus outright reveals His betrayal. We know the torture, and we know the murder. But verses such as Matthew 27:28-30NRSV.
They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!'. only give hint of the actual humiliation Jesus underwent; moreover, the mentioning of the twisted crown set on His head doesn't describe the pain of thorns gouging their way into His scalp. Verses such as Mark 15:15NRSV.
So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. seem to gloss over Jesus' flogging, neglecting to inform our modern minds of the intentional design to the whip used by the Roman floggers so that it tore at flesh, exposing muscle and in many cases bone. The fact that Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the crossbeam of Jesus' cross1 - the patibulum which weighed around 70 lbs - merely implies of Jesus' inability to do it Himself, leaving out the fact Jesus' inability was due to complete and utter exhaustion, not to mention the amount of pain He was then experiencing coupled with massive blood loss.
The Romans had killing down to an art. The crucifixion was engineered particularly for a long and agonising death. When Jesus was nailed to the patibulum and raised to rest on the post dug deep into the ground, it was only the beginning. There was a reason why, at the time, the cross was viewed with great aversion. The victim, following somewhat of a lesser torture than Jesus endured,2 hung on the cross for days experiencing shock and dehydration, tied with a rope around the traumatised thorax so as to keep the body from ripping away from the nails. Unlike our pictures of towering crosses, however, the scene was much more taunting: the victim only hung a few feet from the ground, teasingly. As the torso's muscles failed, the crucified slowly asphyxiated.
Jesus hung nailed for an afternoon, losing blood, withstanding excruciating pain, until he finally gave up His spirit. Where the victim's legs were broken to ensure the drop of the body, ending their torture with finality, Jesus was already dead. He hung there, lifeless.
And this was His fate. He knew it. He chose it, albeit anxiously. Yes, Jesus of Nazareth, Adonai's Anointed One, gave Himself to this.
It is these grim and grisly details we push aside in favour of brightly coloured eggs and chocolate animals. Such so-called 'Christianised' pagan traditions only serve to usurp the real reason we observe Lent, unnecessarily lightening the mood and adding extraneous rituals. We're so unafraid to herald the God-baby in a manger, yet the miserable cross is hidden. Eggs and bunnies dilute the seriousness of death, cheapening the sacrifice of Messiah Jesus, Elohim's chosen son.
And isn't it this we are proclaiming in these final days of Lent - that Messiah Jesus willingly died to reconcile us to His Father, Elohaynu? But where do we see that in our Easter celebrations? Where is the bloodied cross and piercing nails? Where is the torn divine-flesh? Where is the martyr of salvation?
1. Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26.
2. I say 'somewhat lesser' simply because Jesus was also beaten and mocked by the Jewish authorities prior to being handed over to the Romans. The rest of the torture would have been more-or-less the same for any criminal.