A Rabbi's Easter Musing

In the middle of my meditation, I saw Jesus. This was not something this rabbi was expecting.

One never knows what will happen in a meditation. In fact, if we know what will occur, then we are not really meditating, since it demands releasing our expectations. One of the stunningly unexpected moments in my meditations came some years ago.

Usual perceptions cannot adequately describe the intimate intensity of that sudden knowing. Jesus was dying and I heard his last words, words that had always perplexed me: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" (words from Psalm 22:2, quoted in an Aramaic form in Matthew 27:46, and Mark 15:34).

I was perplexed because I knew that everything was happening in accord with Jesus's intentions. He had consistently done what was required to inflame the Roman authorities. His was a level of spiritual awareness that allowed him ultimate control of the situation. He had chosen that death.

So why, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Then, in my meditation, I suddenly knew. In that moment, Jesus saw what would be done in his name. From his teaching on peace would come war. From his teachings on love would come hate. From his confrontation of power with truth would come even greater power that would suppress many others. From his teaching that, "The Kingdom of God is within you," would come the belief that only Jesus could take us to that Kingdom.

Indeed: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

This past Easter morning, I participated in an exceptionally creative service at the Interfaith Community Sanctuary in Seattle. Along with my Interfaith Amigos colleague, Imam Jamal Rahman, the Muslim Sufi co-minister of that Sanctuary, and Ann Holmes Redding, who had been defrocked as an Episcopalian priest because she also accepted Islam, I shared some deep conversation.

Part of what I shared was the negative impact of Easter on the Jewish communities over the centuries. There were many years in Europe when Jews feared going out of their homes between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. A bizarre accusation called the "Blood Libel" insisted that Jews killed a Christian child for ritual purposes, to use their blood to make the matzah, the unleavened bread eaten during Passover week. The accusation, though without proof or merit (and especially ironic since, in order for any meat to be kosher, the blood must be fully drained before it can be consumed), led to terrible persecution of those in the Jewish community.

I also told the congregation that when I read the Christian Testament, it is difficult to keep from hating myself. One would never guess from that text that Jesus was Jewish, nor that all his followers were Jewish. Those labeled "Jews" were always opposing him, as if he was outside that community, and fighting against them.

But Jesus, who was most likely known then as Yeshu or Yeshua (the "J" sound does not appear in either Hebrew, the language he prayed in, or Aramaic, the language he spoke), lived and died a Jew. His followers were all Jewish. Only later did the Gentiles adopt Jesus as their teacher and, ultimately, their Savior.

Jesus taught during an intense time of transition in the Jewish community. The Jewish community was under the authority of Rome, and he sought not only to bring spiritual truth to the decaying Jewish institution of the Temple, but to the occupying power of the Roman Empire.

So here was a teacher who became the most well known Jewish teacher in history. Yet even as the evolving powers of empire rather consistently ignored the teachings of love, of peace, of non-violence, and of caring for the poor, the Jewish culture rather consistently ignored Jesus as a Jewish teacher.

The increased interest of many Christians to know about the Jewishness of Jesus, and the interest from those in the Jewish community to know about the teachings of that first-century Jew, reflect some of the best of the interfaith awakening of our time.

But back to this festival of Easter. It appears to be the dividing line between a Jewish teacher named Yeshu and a Savior, a Messiah, named Jesus. The resurrected Christ is no longer a Jewish teacher, but the focus of an emerging Christianity.

I'm not sure to whom my comments concerning the resurrection are relevant, but I will share a little of what I believe, perhaps to inspire further conversation. I believe that Jesus meant to demonstrate a conscious dying -- to teach that we did not have to be afraid of letting go of the body. I believe that, as a spiritual teacher, Jesus wanted to remind us all that we are more than our individual, finite, identities. We carry within us that which transcends death.

I think things got confused when the resurrection was associated with the reanimation of a dead body rather than the continuity of the spiritual essence of a human being. And I think this confusion has led to a great deal of conflict, not only between Christians and others, but also within the Christian community itself. The teacher who came to bring healing is too often used to bring discord and dissension.

Have you ever noticed that great artists, composers, writers, and teachers are often far more appreciated after their death than before? It seems to me that at death the consciousness we hold is freed from the confines of our individuality, and is more generally and even universally available. So the art, the music, the writing, and the teachings can be more fully appreciated.

I believe this was the intention with which Jesus chose to die -- to gift his world with his teaching, with his awareness, with his love. And this is why he cried out, in the moment he saw how lost his teachings were to become, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Perhaps the time has come when we can all more fully honor the teachings rather than the belief structures that have so easily and so often hidden them.