I was only 20 years old when I first read the story. Although I suppose I had heard much of it before, I also know I spent most of my teen years routinely ignoring any words coming from my Sunday School teachers and from the pastors. I had become a master at blocking out anything to do with spiritual things. Typical youthful arrogance, I suspect. Thought I knew everything.
But in my college years, I read the story. Really read it, from beginning to end, in one sitting. I was captivated by this man who seemed so concerned about those on the edges of society, who could heal and feed people and speak in such a way that people who heard him would leave everything behind to just be around him.
Walking with him mentally from town to town, I heard his voice and jostled with his followers. I saw the growing crowds around him and felt myself one with them. I cheered with the rest when he entered Jerusalem, and excitedly watched as he cleared the place of worship from moneychangers, whose presence and work made it impossible for many to pray.
His teachings filled my mind, and I saw myself as one praised by him as he did the impoverished widow as I, who had so little money myself, knew that I had given what I could.
The odor of the roasting lamb entered my imagination as those early followers prepared the Passover meal. I also found myself troubled by one follower who had, in my mind, "gone over" to the enemies. But I felt sure that those enemies could not win--surely this man would outwit them and escape. After all, I had spent my formative years watching TV shows and movies and just knew the hero would defeat his enemies and come out unscathed.
I read about the prediction that one of his especially loyal followers would deny him. I thought, "I'd never do that. I'd stay firm to the end." Filled with my own pride in learning to be a disciple of this man, I read with growing horror the rest of the story. The unfair trials, the prejudiced judges, the nastiness of the crowds who called for the release of a thief and then demanded that this man, whom I had come to love, be killed.
I wept. I just wept. How could they?
Today, I read again that story, and I still weep. But I no longer say, "How could they?" In the years that have passed since I was 20, I have learned much about human nature, and even more about my own human tendencies.
With growing insight, especially in these last few years, I've come to realize that I would be one of those who might cheer this guy from the sidelines, when there was no real cost, but when directly questioned about my allegiance to him, I, too, would cut and run, just as almost everyone else did.
I know now how easily the human, including me, falls into evil, sticks with the crowd, sucks up to people in power, denies true goodness, and seeks to eradicate it.
As I learn this, Easter finally begins to make sense to me. It makes sense when I quit identifying myself as righteous and firm and sure that I would stay the course, but instead recognize that I am far more likely to yell out, "Crucify him!!!!" and go along with the crowd. Then when I hear the words, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they do," I know that I'm included in that pronouncement. So, when I, on Easter Sunday proclaim, “Christ is Risen!” I, too, receive the forgiveness because I really don't know what I am doing much of the time.
Worship with me on Sunday. Let us raise our voices together in grateful praise for the unending gift of re-union with our God. That’s the message of Easter.