When I was a little girl, Easter morning in my house smelled of vinegar and cloves. We were up early, before sunrise to see the sun shout. My father would attend an Easter sunrise service with his Masonic lodge, my mother would bake the Easter ham, and I would dye the Easter eggs. Then there was Sunday school, church service, and back in the afternoon for the Easter program. It was a long day. Yet it was a day all about new life, new beginnings, new clothes, the victory of life over death.
Now, as an adult, Holy Week itself has more significance for me. Maundy Thursday reminds us of Jesus' last supper. We remember his communion with his disciples, his Gethsemane anguish and prayer. "Let this cup pass from me, nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Matthew 26:39) There is Good Friday and the seven last words and Tenebrae services where candles are extinguished until we leave the sanctuary in darkness. We remember the suffering of Jesus, his beating and death on the cross. We think about the world without a savior. We await the Easter dawn when the sun will shout the glory and power of God who gives us victory over death and despair.
However, in our Holy Week and Easter celebrations, I wonder if we have forgotten the love that is the driving force behind the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was the love of God who is Love itself that gave us the example of Jesus. Jesus brought with him a new commandment: "that you love one another just as I have loved you, that you also love one another." (John 13:34) It is by this love that the world will recognize us as disciples of Jesus.
This love calls for the passion of compassion. When we think of the passion of Jesus, we think of his suffering and death. It is as important for us to think of his compassion for those who suffer and of his passion for justice, of his commitment to social justice. It is important that we remember the criteria by which we will be judged. Did we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison?
In the eyes of the Roman Empire, Jesus was not an innocent man. He went to the cross because he was a threat to the state. His teaching of radical generosity, his ideas about a kingdom of heaven that ought to come on earth, his teaching of love of enemy that leaves no space for fear was a threat to a state government and state religion that thrived on fear. He did not come to overthrow the state government, but rather to institute a value system where love of God, humanity and creation stood at the center.
This Holy Week and Easter season, let us remember the radical love of Jesus.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.