Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pascha - Reflections on Passion Week

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This month we, Peace United Church and Grey Eagle United Methodist Church, along with Christians around the world, will be celebrating “Easter”. I put the word in quotations because of murkiness of the origin of this English word. According to Harper Collins’ Bible Dictionary

Easter: the Christian festival that celebrates Jesus’ resurrection. The name “Easter” derives from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring (Eostre or Ostara), but the Christian festival developed from the Jewish Passover (Heb. pesech, Gk. pascha) because according to the Gospels the events of Jesus’ last days took place at the time of Passover.

Perhaps the better term for the celebration should be “Pascha”. This should not be limited to the one day of Jesus’ resurrection but should apply to the eight day observance we call “Holy Week”. Let’s review this last week of Jesus’ life:

Sunday, Palm Sunday – Jesus enters Jerusalem as the anti-king riding a lowly donkey. Only the Gospel of John records the use of palm leaves to cushion the feet of the donkey. The others have cloaks and leafy branches. According to Matthew and Luke, Jesus also drives out the sellers and money exchangers from the Temple. (John has this episode at the start of Jesus’ ministry.)

Monday to Wednesday – Mark has Jesus going to the temple to drive out the businessmen on Monday. All agree that from Monday to Wednesday, Jesus spends the day in or near the Temple teaching the crowds and the disciples about God’s Kingdom (or Realm).

Thursday, Maundy Thursday – All four Gospels agree that Jesus has a final meal with his disciples. Matthew, Mark, and Luke say that this is the first day of Passover (Heb. pesech, Gk. pascha) when the lambs are slaughtered (sacrificed). During the meal according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus institutes the sharing of the bread and wine as his body and blood. This is known as Communion, Last Supper, or Eucharist. John states that this is the day before Passover and Jesus teaches the disciples about what it means to serve by washing their feet. All agree that Judas sells Jesus out to the powerful of Jerusalem.

Friday, Good Friday – On this day, Jesus, who was arrested late in the evening on Thursday, faces his accusers in front of Caiaphas (the head priest of the Temple), Herod (the nominal king of Judea), and Pilate (the Roman Governor of the region). All agree that Peter denies knowing Jesus three times. Each Gospel emphasizes different aspects and records different speeches but the essentials are consistent: Jesus is beaten, scourged, and whipped; he it tried on spurious charges and convicted at the urging of the crowds; he is crucified; and Jesus dies and is buried in a nearby empty tomb.

Saturday – Nothing happens but the disciples hole up in shock and mourn.

Sunday, the Day of Resurrection – The Gospel of Mark says that the women who went to the tomb found it empty and an angel tells them that Jesus has risen. Frightened, they say nothing to the disciples. The original ending of Mark was probably verse 8, however, there are twelve more verses that are accepted cannon and should be taken seriously. Matthew, Luke, and John record different stories of different women finding the empty tomb and of the living Jesus visiting the disciples and giving them instructions to take the message to everyone.

So, the questions I would like to leave with you are these: What does this “Pascha” mean to you? Have you read all four stories including the resurrection stories (Matthew 21:1-28:20; Mark 11:1-16:20; Luke 19:28-24:53; and John 13:1-21:25)? What does it mean to believe in a dead (murdered, crucified) yet still living Jesus? Has it or does it change your life?

May God richly bless you this “Pascha” season and may the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection change your life. – Pastor Gary

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