Being a Christian who does not take the words of the Bible literally, I always struggle with both Christmas and Easter. These two very holy celebrations center around specific events in the life of Jesus. Events that, because I don’t believe they actually happened, I have a hard time celebrating. I need to know how these sacred stories apply to me/us today. I’ve rarely had a convincing answer. Then, last Sunday, listening to the Palm Sunday sermon at my church, I grasped a very real understanding of what the Easter story can mean.
Well, the pre-Easter story anyway. Our minister was talking about the trial of Jesus, Pilot’s asking the crowd which prisoner to free, the crowd fervently insisting on Jesus’ crucifixion and Pilot declaring his hands washed of Jesus blood. it’s a tense, sad scene. With our benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to be appalled at the crowd’s hatred and callousness, at Pilot’s acceptances of the seemingly irrational decision to set the hardened criminal free and to execute Jesus. We are angry.
But then we have to ask ourselves, would we have acted any differently than that crowd or that judge? Oh, we’d like to think so. But if we had really been a Roman politician or a Jewish citizen of Jesus’ time, what makes us so sure that we would have gone against all we knew for the sake of one man. Would we have had the courage to be one of twelve devoted followers of a stranger with a radical message? To stand against law and loved one to say ‘set this man free?’ We’ll never really know.
The real question for us becomes, do we have that courage today? Can we stand up for the weak, the disadvantaged, the wrongly accused in the face of mass unpopularity? Do we have the courage to do something even if it’s not what everyone else is doing, or runs contrary to what we thought we knew?
This is what I take away from the Easter story – a reminder to stand up for what is right, not what is popular. To stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. To picture myself in the crowd condemning Jesus and accept that that would have been me and I now have the power and passion to change that.
If you believe that Jesus died for our sins, then you must know that it was exactly those people who sent him to his death, their sins, that he was dying for. He didn’t look into a crystal ball and see “us” in the future that he would sacrifice himself for. It was for those sinners right in front of him. We are all among that crowd. We are not above them. And we will continue to condemn Jesus to death until we can truly move out of the crowd and examine ourselves, our motives, and defend the undefended.