INDIAN FESTIVALS : The Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus
By Swami Ranganathananda
Jesus
Jesus appeared to all of them on a hill in Galilee, blessed them, spoke to them, commanding them to teach the gospel to all the world and, before disappearing, assured them that he would be with them always unto the end of the world.

The doleful procession, with Jesus adorned with a scarlet robe and a crown of thorns and carrying his heavy cross, proceeded to Golgotha. He was attended by soldiers who jeeringly hailed him king of the Jews and spat upon and smote him; then they removed the scarlet robe and put his own raiment upon him and nailed him on the cross on the mount of Calvary between two thieves similarly crucified. They placed over his head a taunting signboard: This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.

After hours of intense agony, Jesus cried with a loud voice: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew, XXVII. 46), and then in an appealing voice: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’. (Luke, XXIII. 34).

It was a Friday. The mother of Jesus was a witness of this pathetic scene from a distance; with her was her sister and Mary Magdalene and John. Before he finally expired, Jesus pointed to his mother and asked John to treat her as his own mother, and asked her to treat him as her own son. After this expression of tenderness. Jesus bent his head and expired, after nine hours of intense torture.

The tragedy was complete. Forsaken by the world, for whose redemption he had come, Jesus ended his earthly career when he was hardly thirty-three. But his spirit triumphed in the resurrection. Joseph of Arimathea, a silent but influential devotee, took his body for burial with the permission of the Roman governor. He laid the body in a new tomb and, placing a heavy stone over it, departed. The two Mary’s, however, remained near the sepulcher. After three days, on Monday, they had a shaking spiritual experience; and they learnt about the resurrection of Jesus through the angels. They rushed to convey the news to the disciples at Galilee in fear and joy. On the way, the radiant from of Jesus appeared before them, and they fell at his feet and worshipped him. Directed by him, they informed the disciples of the glad tidings, and Jesus appeared to all of them on a hill in Galilee, blessed them, spoke to them, commanding them to teach the gospel to all the world and, before disappearing, assured them that he would be with them always unto the end of the world.

In this moving story of the resurrection, there is one touching episode relating to one of the disciples, Thomas, who was absent at that time. When they related the vision to him, he refused to believe them until he had a direct experience. Exactly eight days after, Jesus again revealed himself to all of them, including Thomas, and invoked his peace on them. Calling to Thomas, Jesus asked him to feel his wounds with his fingers, which he did in amazement and sorrow and joy. Jesus admonished him to believe and not be faithless, and added a significant remark: ‘Thomas, because thou has seen me, thou has believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed’ (John, XX. 29).

As a sequel to the above episode, the expression ‘doubting Thomas’ passed into the world’s vocabulary of banter.

It is interesting for us to recall the tradition that our country first heard the message of Jesus from this direct disciple of his, and a group of Christians of our Kerala State trace their spiritual descent from him.

These are, then, some of the salient features of the life and teachings of this arresting personality, whom the Hindus spontaneously recognize as a divine incarnation. As we have seen, his life is full of sweetness and tenderness, tragedy and pathos; it is spiritually inspiring. To us in India, however, the end is just a tragedy, bereft of any special spiritual beauty. It is the life that is, in our view, spiritually beautiful and elevating. The deaths of our own spiritual heroes, Sri Rama and Sri Krishna, were near tragic; but we did not build our religion on them. India treats the manner of their death most casually, while she seeks to build her religion on their lives and teachings.

It is no wonder that ordinary people do not understand the depths of a divine incarnation’s personality; they can at best appreciate his miracles, while missing his character. Too much insistence on these miracles converts religion into a sort of magic, and degrades the content of the life-giving message to cheapness. All great teachers, including Jesus, therefore, discountenanced them. The difficulty of recognizing an incarnation has been well expressed by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita; only a few can understand him; the rest will deride him or just ignore him: Avajananti mam mudha manusim tanumasritam, param bhavamajananto mama bhutamahesvaram–‘Fools deride me when invested with a human body, not being able to grasp my transcendent nature as the supreme Lord of all beings’ (Bhagavad Gita, IX. 11).

The trial and crucifixion of Jesus is the measure of the intolerance and folly of the contemporary society. There is pathos in the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathereth thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ (Matthew XXIII. 37).

Persecution is the outcome of intolerance which is a social malady arising out of the limitations of its Weltanschauung. India was, and is, fortunately free from this malady, thanks to its generous spiritual outlook which finds beautiful elucidation in several of our sacred books: ‘Knowers of Truth declare that it is the same non-dual Reality that is spoken of as Brahman (Absolute) by the philosophers, as Atman (Self) by the mystics, and as Ishvara (God) by the devotees’-

Vadanti tat tattvavidah tattvam yat jnanam advayam; Brahmeti paramatmeti Bhagavan iti shabdyate (Shrimad Bhagavatam, I. 2. 11)
From Swamiji’s book The Christ We Adore, a Bhavan’s Book University Publication

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