By NEMS Daily Journal
Thousands who celebrated Easter last weekend started this week with the unmistakable emotional lift and optimism that great celebrations of faith provide.
The rituals and rhythms of religious experience vary from tradition to tradition, and they all are important for those who understand their context. However, none of the so-called mountain-top experiences will last, and the larger stream of Christian history doesn’t intend for that to be the case.
The rest of the Easter story begins with the challenges and instructions included in the texts of the New Testament narrative in which the resurrected Jesus tells his followers what’s expected after the central events have unfolded.
The sum of what Jesus says is to get to work doing what he did.
The 21st chapter of the Gospel of John contains a bold summation in one of the famous encounters:
“Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.'”
Early Christianity came of age in a constantly physically hungry world. Food was not a daily assumption for many, and the injustices of the Roman Empire compounded the deprivation often caused by a difficult climate and ubiquitous poverty.
That meeting-over-breakfast along the seashore among Jesus and a few of his disciples forever set aside the status quo of what was acceptable and expected as the work of faith.
John Masefield, the great British poet, dramatist and novelist of the 20th century, set a powerful scene in his play, “The Trial of Jesus,” published in 1924:
Longinus, the centurion in command of soldiers at the cross, returns to Pilate with a report on the execution of Jesus, when Pilate’s wife, Procula, intervenes and asks how the prisoner died, and after the story is told, she abruptly asks, “Do you think he is dead?”
“No, lady, I don’t,” Longinus answers.
“Then where is he?”
“Let loose in the world, lady, where (no one) can stop his truth.”
Christian social action started at the beginning, and it has constantly sought to be an agent for justice and transformation during the past 20 centuries. Work remains, needs are visibly widespread.
Look to the Sudan and every place where selfish people make a hard life worse, or where natural disaster destroys optimism, and the imperative to “feed my sheep” becomes apparent in all its demanding dimensions.