Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 2, 2001
Holy Week launches the Christian Story
Holy Week. Jesus' triumphant entrance into the city on a borrowed donkey. A last supper with close friends. The breaking of bread and the puzzling invitation to do this in his memory. The humbling gesture of washing the feet of his followers.
The agony in the garden while his close associates fall asleep. The kiss of Judas and his subsequent suicide. Pontius Pilate washes his hands. "Give us Barabbas," cry the people.
The scourging and crowning with thorns. The denial of Peter. The way of the cross and crucifixion. A run of the mill spectacle that never fails to attract the curious, but of the 5,000 followers who witnessed the miraculous multiplication, only three are left to hear his last words.
It's the women who greet and console him on the way to Golgotha. It is Simon of Cyrene, a mere bystander, who takes up the cross. The others have scattered in fear and disillusionment, hiding from the authorities. God is dead.
The women visiting the grave find an empty tomb. What does it mean? The men go and investigate. Has the Nazarene risen as was foretold? Is God not dead after all? Did the empire remove the martyr's body to prevent an uprising? Did Joseph of Arimathea safeguard the corpse of the Messiah as an act of piety?
The believers meet in secret to discuss the events. The road to Emmaus and the curious stranger who reveals himself by breaking bread once more. A doubting Thomas places his hands in the wounds.
The Ascension. Like orphans, the disciples are left to fend for themselves. Three years on the road with a God who spoke in parables. They are confused. What's next? The Holy Spirit descends on the disciples. Imbued with a holy conviction they set out on the road again.
Saul, the persecutor, falls off his horse on the way to Damascus. He is a changed man. Driven to hunt down the last Christian, this Roman citizen now applies his zeal to proselytize the Gentiles over the initial objection of Peter, James and the others.
A small Jewish sect, started in a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire, gets a foothold among patriarchal households on the European continent. Evangelists begin to write down the story as they remember it, in order to convince others that God truly lived among his people.
The connection is made with the Old Testament, to show that this is a continuation and not a break with the past. Christ is the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of delivery.
Epistles are written to keep contact with far-flung base Christian communities. This all happened long before the fax, email and photocopier were invented. Still, the word spreads, in spite of strong opposition from the governing powers. The Christians meet in catacombs.
One secret follower is Helena, mother of Constantine. Her son is a young general in the Roman army as Diocletian orders the whole scale massacre of Christians.
Constantine conquers Rome in 312, inspired by a sign in the heavens. Christianity emerges from the ghettoes and is abruptly thrust into the centre of power. Simple unlettered people were suddenly expected to run a civilization that had been dominated by an ancient, sophisticated aristocracy. Idolatry was still widespread.
Greek philosophy informed the world view. Pope Damasus in 366 integrates these pagan elements into the new religion in an attempt to make the Church Roman. The fact that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring is just one reminder of those early days.
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