It is a time that millions of people the world over look forward to – the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. What day is that, you ask? Easter, the day (and season) that Christians worldwide commemorate the trial, death, and resurrection from the dead of Jesus.
I grew up in a Catholic family, going to a Catholic school, and know well the Easter motif, beginning with the “giving something up” for Lent, Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (in fulfillment of scriptures), and then turned over the tables of the vendors. He was still invited to speak in the Temple, but the Temple authorities considered him an upstart, someone who seemed to know “the Truth” in a way that they had forgotten, a man who didn’t have the Temple training and no formal training to become a Rabbi, and yet, there he was, attracting crowds, purporting to heal, innocent, seeming to know the answers to life’s deepest questions.
His trial and death were almost predictable, as most societies do not like the rabble-rousers among them. Especially, the “leaders” do not like such persons, and they act quick to dispose of them. Witness such other notables as Socrates, Pythagoras, Joan of Arc, Abraham Lincoln, Sitting Bull, Wovoka, Musashi, Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Pope John Paul the first. I am not necessarily putting these individuals (and the hundreds more like them) on the par with Jesus, but it is clear that a down-ward looking society takes offence with anyone who looks to the heavens.
Every Easter I have enjoyed the inspiring messages that movie-makers have given us in their efforts to interpret the practical meaning of the Jesus message. I have particularly liked the over six hour presentation of “Jesus of Nazareth” produced by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Robert Powell as Jesus. It is a rare presentation that brings the story alive, and takes it out of the pages of dry church reading. You cannot help but cry, and laugh, often when viewing this unique presentation. I have kept a Bible (Lamsa translation) handy when viewing this, to see how well Zeffirelli brought alive these ancient writings. You will likely agree that he did a great job. Actor Robert Powell said once in an interview that this role “changed my life.” Indeed.
I have also enjoyed the movie version of the play “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Though full of deliberate anachronisms, it still manages to penetrate into the dynamics of what was going on in the people around Jesus. I do not consider this presentation in any way profane, and find it to be a valuable tool for understanding certain aspects of the Christian message.
Though too many of us have gotten lost in the pre-Christian “Easter” symbolisms of eggs, bunnies, chocolate, etc., it is still worth fighting to realize that there is still a real story here, about someone who worked hard, was ridiculed, laughed at, even killed, in order to help us to save ourselves.
I have chosen to see the Easter story as a pattern that each of us should find and follow in our own lives. And are there other stories out there which show this pattern in the so-called secular world?
Movie-makers have given us many such stories, but we don’t always see them for what they are. If we consider the themes of the Easter story – humble birth, hard work, trying to rise above mundanity, showing The Way to others, some sort of “death,” and rising up again – then there are some excellent movies that give us this tale.
For example, you can’t go wrong with the classic “Whale Rider”. If you’ve not seen it, get it immediately. The grandfather of the traditional village is hoping for a grandson to carry on the ways. A girl is born, and grandpa figures he’ll have to wait some more. But the girl is “the one.” She persists in her path of learning the traditional ways. And when a test is given to the boys to see which one will become the new spiritual leader, the girl nearly dies, but passes the test. She is the one. You have to see it, and feel it, and experience that Saviorness can occur at any time, anywhere. Of course, there are certain requirements, but the chief among them is the willingness and desire to do the work required, and then doing that work.
“Powder” is another good movie that somewhat depicts the elements of the Easter theme, though not precisely. It’s still worth watching to see how most of us treat our fellow man.
Even “It’s a Wonderful Life” with James Stewart – so often shown at Christmas – probably more accurately can be said to depict the Easter theme. Stewart worked hard to make life better for his fellow man, while living a humble life and not always getting the material things he would have liked. All the while Mr. Potter greedily plans to take over the town. And Stewart “dies” in the river, gets to see what his world would be without him, and he is then brought back to carry on. In this case, Stewart is not crucified in the end, but is recognized for his good deeds.
Yes, some of you who will read your Encyclopedia today will learn about the pre-Christian roots of Easter. There is no denying that the Holy Day, as practiced generally today, has so-called pagan roots. So what? You can still observe this day and find the way to use the major themes for your personal upliftment, and for the upliftment of those around you.