Every festival of whatever faith or culture is capable of a message of general relevance. The festival of Easter with all the ritual days preceding it has its own universal significance, regardless of whether an individual’s rationality can accommodate physical resurrection of the dead when viewed outside the paradigm of unquestioning faith.
It’s interesting to note that various mythologies contain the prototype of the Christian resurrection story. In Babylonian myth as deciphered from a tablet in the British museum, the god Bel ( Baal in Hebrew) is taken prisoner, tried in a great hall, taken to a mount and executed, descends the mount and disappears from life, to reappear amidst wailing women, revealing many parallels with later Gospel narrations of the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The universality of the resurrection construct across various cultures is perhaps rooted in the longings of the human spirit for immortality and invincibility amidst the varied circumstances of life. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ enjoyed particular resonance amidst the slave and subject peoples suffering the cruel excesses of the Roman empire, with the burning hope of dignity in this life and a benign afterlife in the next.
Maundy Thursday finds expression in Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, a popular and universally known artwork, even if the creator of this masterpiece is believed variously to have been outside orthodox Christianity as a Freemason or Knight Templar. It commemorates the collective breaking of bread with an underlying message to reach out to the deprived, diseased and disadvantaged of the earth. This mandate of universally reaching out in human empathy was an unusual deviation from the self-contained structure of Hebrew society at the time. It is very appropriate that this cosmopolitan sense is re-inforced till there exists no sense of otherness with different but equally valid faith and belief systems.
As Christianity took firm root in the Roman Empire, the idea of a risen Christ had to be merged with prevailing pagan festivals that celebrated springtime as a renewal of the earth.Easter eggs and bunnies were fertility symbols that would be appropriated in popular celebration of a hallowed event.
Synonymous with the life giving bounties of Spring, the spirit of Easter should have its own worth for our environmentally troubled times. Thoughtless depletion and wastage of resources form part of a grim big picture of floods, famines and climatic disasters through the phenomenon of global warming. To love one’s neighbor has a wider implication today- it could be an unseen person on another side of the planet who must bear the brunt of one’s destructive over-consumption. The sense of sacrifice and self- denial inherent to the preceding Lenten season fits in well with conscientious consumption patterns to be carried over in the longer period to renew the earth and promote socially responsible actions.
Good Friday which precedes Easter is a reminder that life is a mixture of sweetness and bitterness, that sad experiences come with their own hope of wisdom and renewal. Easter symbolically can be regarded as a call to rise to our better moral selves. In a general sense, we may aspire to the higher reaches of human potential, to transcend mortality with relevant impresses of enduring worth in this life itself. The Easter story is the ultimate inspiration towards dramatic reinvention of the self for riveting transformational possibilities.