"What Happened? - Some Easter Thoughts"

Apr 10, 2009

Murray, KY – The Easter miracle is a vital, and some would say indispensable, part of Christian doctrine. As Easter Sunday approaches, commentator and Murray State history professor Dr. Joe Fuhrmann asks believers and non-believers to take a moment to consider what happened on that day.

Easter is a special time for Christians.

On Palm Sunday we celebrate Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Then comes Trideuum. On Maundy Thursday, we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Good Friday observes the crucifixion of Jesus. Saturday night is the Easter Vigil. Easter Sunday marks the Resurrection.

Russians have several interesting Easter customs.

One custom has Russians ask forgiveness of people they know for all the wrongs they have committed since the last time they sought forgiveness. What a wonderful idea! As we interact with our fellows, we inevitably slight, offend and hurt them in a variety of ways; much of this is unintentional and unconscious. How wonderful to have an opportunity to be forgiven of these wrongs.

The request for forgiveness has to be stylized, it has to be done by formula it won't work any other way! Seeking forgiveness is something we don't really want to do, least of all from people we don't like, at least not very much. Asking forgiveness in this context must be mechanical. You do it; that's what counts.

A Russian says, "prostite menya," "forgive me."

The automatic reply is, "Ya vam vse proshchayu!" "I forgive you for everything!"

Another interesting custom comes on Easter. Russians greet one another on that Great Day by saying, "Khristos Voskres!"

The rely is, "Da, vo istino, Voskres!"

"Christ has Risen!" "Yes, truly, he has risen!" This is also automatic, transcending thought, doubt and debate.

So this is our season and these are the issues of the season.

I once resented my secular society forcing me to work on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. To be more precise, I resent the following realization. If devout -or not so devout Hindus, Moslems, Jews or Buddhists told their superiors that such-and-such days were of religious significance to them, the authorities would gladly release them from an obligation to work. But if Christians asked for a similar leave, that would create a problem. What is the difference?

The answer is interesting, and not a matter I wish to explore just now. Actually, our secular society tries to be fair. If I wanted to absent myself from work on special days, I could do so. I have never asked for such "time off." I either had work I needed to get done, or I used the season to make a religious point with my students. Today I propose to do both.

I ask you to think about the Resurrection. Consider the historic situation. Christ had been crucified, he was buried in a tomb, and his few pitiful followers gathered. They were pitiful for two reasons. First, they were a bunch of simple, uneducated working stiffs who, in Aramaic, said the equivalent of "ain't" and "he don't." No leadership potential there, nothing special - just a few humble men and yes, women, one of whom some think was Jesus' close companion.

Second, Jesus' followers were pitiful because they had lost their leader and he failed to meet their expectations. (Jews believed the Messiah would restore the earthly kingdom of Israel.) They had to face the LARGE POSSIBILITY that this wonderful guy they had been following around for months was a big fraud.

The disciples were bewildered, bitter, and disillusioned.

And then something happened. Something happened that changed everything. Dispirited people became self confident; fearful men and women gained courage; they grew in number and formed a movement that ended by shaking the world. They were transformed into a body which was willing to endure ridicule, persecution and death.

Whatever happened must have been really something!

The Gospels tell us it was the Resurrection. Skeptics claim it was hocus pocus or deception. (Even at the time there were rumors that Jesus' followers planned to steal his body and claim He was resurrected.) Claims of a staged event will not bear close scrutiny. Dishonest men and women do not form movements which endure persecution and death and prevail. The disciples, you must remember, had their own victory over death.

I ask my secular friends to become larger than their doubts. People who try to prove the existence of God with test tubes and Bunsen burners learn it cannot be done, though I must say that, without God, we would not have test tubes and Bunsen burners. To these people I insist they are my friends I bring this question: what happened on that day?

As for my students, I leave them with a request, a greeting, and a question.

My request is "prostite menya!"

My greeting is, "Khristos voskres!"

My question is the following: If you cannot respond to my greeting by saying, "Da, vo istino voskres!" tell me, "What do you think happened on that first Easter day?"