Awakening to our Eternal Identity
We have completed the season of Lent and have now entered Holy Week. There are three important days in Holy Week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Maundy Thursday: On Maundy Thursday Jesus gives two important messages: the universal call to priesthood and transcending hierarchical structure. Maundy Thursday is a very important day as Jesus Christ, knowing that he was going to die, imparts the essence of his life and his message. He celebrated the ritual of the Eucharist and he washed the feet of his disciples. The moment of death is very important. One remembers essentials and shares essentials.
Once a father was about to die. He had four sons. So he called them and told each one of them to go out and bring a stick. So they went out and each one brought back a stick. He asked them to break the stick and each one broke his stick easily. He then asked them to go out and again bring back a stick. So each one brought back a stick. He told them to tie all the sticks into a bundle, which they did. Then he told them to break the bundle. Each one tried to break the bundle but could not break it. The Father told them: Do this in memory of me and he died. The message of the father was very clear. It was not mechanical repetition of the ritual but a call to be united. He was saying to them: “If you are divided you can be broken easily. If you are united nobody can break you”. If the father had just told them this story, they might easily have forgotten it but he showed them through a ritual so they did not forget it and remembered it well.
Jesus Christ did the same. During his ministry, he taught his disciples so many things publicly and privately. But now the time had come to die. He had to impart to his disciples the essence of his message. He did that through two important rituals: the ritual of the Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet. These two rituals have the similar message but each one in a unique way.
The Ritual of the Last Supper: This ritual reveals the essence of Jesus’ life and message. The essence of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God. Jesus Christ lived the life of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the fullness of the love of God manifesting in the fullness of the love of neighbour. It is transforming one’s life into the life of God, one actions into actions of God. It is transforming one’s ordinary life into divine life. Jesus Christ took bread and wine that represented ordinary life and elevated them and transformed them into the body and blood of Christ, that is to say, the body and blood of God. The ordinary bread and wine became the body of God and the blood of God. He gave it to his disciples and said: “take this and eat; take this and drink”. It was sharing his transformed ordinary life with his brothers and sisters. He told his disciples to do this in memory of him: not just the mechanical repetition of ritual but they were to transform their life into the life of God and to share it with others. In this way our encounter with others becomes a Eucharistic celebration. This is the not the power given only to some special persons (priests) but an invitation to everyone. Giving power to some special people creates spiritual hierarchy, spiritual apartheid. This is against the vision of the kingdom of God. This is the call to every man and woman. Everyone is called to be a priest, to live this transformed life. The second ritual of Jesus Christ, the washing of the feast, breaks this spiritual hierarchy, spiritual apartheid.
The Washing of the Feet: In the gospel of John we do not have the ritual of the last supper but the ritual of the washing of the feet. In the Indian tradition it is normal for a disciple to wash the feet of his or her master. But Jesus made a revolution in which the master washes the feet of his disciples. Here washing the feet meant to serve others, to help others, for in the life of the kingdom of God there is no spiritual hierarchy; all are equal. The role of the master is to help his or her disciples to realise the truth that he or she has realised. Christ said: I no longer call you my disciples or my servants but I call you my friends. In the kingdom of God the dichotomy of master and disciple disappear. There is a master and disciple relationship it is only provisional, temporary and a preparation. In the final state there is no master and disciple but only friendship.
Hence these two rituals reveal the ultimate destiny of our spiritual life: transformation of our ordinary life into divine life (universal priesthood) and helping one another to grow into the kingdom of God (breaking spiritual hierarchy). It is unfortunate that the Catholic tradition used these rituals to create a particular priesthood and spiritual hierarchy and thus created a spiritual apartheid which is what Jesus Christ abolished.
GOOD FRIDAY: It is called Good Friday because Jesus Christ died on this day. The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is the crucifixion of the fullness of Truth. It is not only historical having happened two thousand years ago but it is also cosmic and is happening all the time, before Christ and after Christ. The division of humanity before Christ and after Christ is the sign of crucifixion of the fullness of Truth by relative truths or collective truths.
The crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is the consequence of the refusal on the part of the Jewish spiritual leaders to grow into the fullness of Truth and the consequence of the refusal on the part of Jesus Christ to come down from the fullness of Truth to the relative truth or collective truth. The foundations of Judaism are the two great Commandments: the love of God and the love of neighbour. But this love of God was limited and dualistic. It was the love between a creator and creature. The love of neighbour was also limited. The neighbour was either someone close or a fellow Jew. Jesus Christ elevated the love of God from creator-creature relationship to son-daughter and Father-mother relationship and finally one with God. He said that he was not a creature a God but the Son of God and ultimately one with God. He declared: “the Father and I are one”. He expanded the love of neighbour from loving a fellow Jew to loving the whole of creation. The whole of creation was his neighbour. He told his disciples to go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to the whole of creation. This is the fullness of the love of God and fullness of the love of neighbour.
Jesus invited his religious tradition to grow from the limited love of God and love of neighbour into the fullness of the love of God and the love of neighbour. This vision breaks down all boundaries and creates one God, one creation and one humanity. To the Jewish religious leaders this vision was blasphemous. This vision takes away the absoluteness of Judaism. Jesus Christ became a threat to Jewish absoluteness. He had to be eliminated. If Jesus Christ had accepted Jewish absolutism then he would not have been killed but then he would have closed the door to the evolution of humanity. He had to make a choice: to stand by his experience of God and face death or to deny his experience of God and save his life. Jesus Christ refused to deny his experience, to come down from the fullness of Truth and accepted death for the spiritual growth of humanity, for the unity of mankind and for the liberation of human beings and the freedom of humanity.
Whenever relative truth or collective truth refuses to accept the fullness of truth or unifying truth it is the crucifixion of Truth (Christ). Crucifixion is not only physical but also can be psychological and spiritual. We can crucify people psychologically and spiritually. When we block the psychological and spiritual growth of other people we crucify them. Physical crucifixion is visible but psychological and spiritual crucifixion is not visible. There is so much psychological and spiritual crucifixion happening in the world. These crucifixions happen in the name of God and religions.
There are two ways we can crucify the Truth. One is by refusing to grow from the relative truth or collective truth into the fullness of Truth. The second is by reducing the fullness of Truth into fragmented relative or collective truths. Relative truth or collective truth builds walls and divides people. The fullness of truth breaks down all walls and unites. Christ is unity. Anti-Christ is division.
This crucifixion of truth was happening before Jesus Christ. It is happening after Jesus Christ. All religious divisions before Christ were the sign of the crucifixion of the fullness of Truth. All the divisions after Christ are the sign of crucifixion of Christ or Truth. Within Christianity, thousands of Christian denominations are the sign of crucifixion of Truth. The fullness of Jesus’ Truth is fragmented into various Christian denominations each one claiming the fullness of Christ. It is a scandal to Jesus Christ who came to unite. Hence we can crucify truth individually and collectively whenever we refuse to grow into the fullness of Truth or unity and whenever we bring down the fullness of Truth into fragmented belief systems and divide humanity. It does not make any sense to commemorate the crucifixion and death of Christ when we ourselves are crucifying the Truth (Christ) with our fragmented understanding of Jesus’ Truth.
Easter: Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion and death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has two aspects: resurrection before his physical death and resurrection after his physical death. Christianity very much emphasizes resurrection after death of Jesus. Of course it was necessary at that time but resurrection before death is more important than resurrection after death.
Resurrection before Death:
- Resurrection before death is awakening to the eternity within us. This happened to Jesus Christ at the moment of his baptism experience at the river Jordan. It is transcending his identities as the son of Mary and Joseph, and as a Jew and discovering his identity as the Son of God. It is transcending his identities that belong to time and space and discovering his eternal identity beyond time and space. He was the word of God. ‘In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God’. ‘Before Abraham was I am’, he declared. This was his eternal identity.
- Resurrection before death is realising unity with God: “The Father and I are one”, said Jesus. This is the experience of resurrection that happened before his physical death.
- Resurrection before death is transforming one’s body by the spirit of God. This happened to Jesus at the moment of his transfiguration. His body was penetrated by the spirit of God which became visible to those who saw him.
- Resurrection before death is seeing everything and everyone with the eyes of God. The consciousness of Jesus was so transformed that wherever he saw he saw only the kingdom of God. He saw a man who found treasure in the field he said, the kingdom of God is like that. He saw a merchant in search of pearls he said the kingdom of God was like that. He saw fishermen throwing nets into the sea he said that the kingdom of God was like that. He saw a woman putting yeast in flour he said that the kingdom of God was like that. He saw a shepherd in search his lost sheep he said that the kingdom of God was like that. Hence wherever he saw he saw the kingdom of God. This was the resurrection before his physical death.
- Resurrection before death is the transformation of ordinary life into divine life. It is transforming our ordinary life into the life of God, our ordinary actions into actions of God. He showed this through the celebration of the Eucharist at the last supper. Jesus Christ said: the works which I do are not mine but the Father who dwells in me does his works’. This was the life of Eucharistic celebration.
Resurrection after Death
The appearance of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion and death is described as resurrection of Jesus Christ. The physical resurrection is not very important for those who had the experience of resurrection before death. During the time of Jesus this manifestation was necessary as people did not have definite belief in life after death. After the death of Jesus his disciples were demoralized. They thought that Jesus was a failed Messiah. They thought that whole thing was just a delusion. They decided to go back to their former way of life, fishing. Jesus appeared to these disciples and their lives were transformed. They were one hundred percent convinced that there was life after death. Resurrection became the central message of Christianity, not the kingdom of God which Jesus Christ preached. The death of Jesus Christ was understood as the death for the sins of human beings. This made sense to their thinking.
Jesus Christ invited people to experience Resurrection before death. Repentance is the way this transformation takes place. Christianity focused on the resurrection after death and completely closed the door to the experience of resurrection before death. It is very important today to rediscover the call to the resurrection before death without neglecting the resurrection after death. This resurrection is elevating our relationship with God and expanding our relationship with our neighbors. It is breaking wall between God and us and breaking walls between us and others. Meister Eckhart said: what does it profit if Christ was born hundreds of years ago in Bethlehem if he is not born in us? We can say the same thing of resurrection: what does it profit that Christ was risen two thousand years ago if we do rise today?
During this Holy Week we are invited to discover four important truths:
- Rediscovering the universal priesthood that every man and woman is called to become a priest, according to the order of Melchisedek (not according to the order of Levites) and live a transformed life celebrating the Eucharist each moment of their life. This is the life according to the New Covenant. (Maundy Thursday)
- Rediscovering the dignity of every human being and abolishing the spiritual apartheid of institutional hierarchy. It is washing the feet of each other (Maundy Thursday) and helping each one to discover their dignity.
- Not to crucify the truth (Christ) by refusing to grow into the fullness of Truth, into the fullness of the love of God and fullness of the love of neighbour. Not to build internal walls and divide humanity and contribute divisions, conflict and violence (Good Friday).
- To break the doors of the tombs of relative truths or collective truths and come out and declare the victory of the Fullness of Truth over the relative truths before our physical deaths and experience resurrection before death. To declare that Unity (Truth) will be victorious over Divisions (Easter).
I wish you all a Happy Easter. May we all be awakened to our eternal identity!
Br. John Martin Sahajananda