Festivals and Holidays

Excerpts of the articles are presented below. Please click on the title to read the full article.
1.  Easter

This link takes you to an article written by Fr. Charles Ogada in 2006 for the Heart to Heart Journal:   Below is the text reproduced:

 

Easter is a festival of Enlightenment. It is the day that Jesus rose from death. It was on a Sunday morning, the day of the Sun God. Mary Magdalene and other women had gone to look at the tomb where Jesus was buried. But to their horror and bewilderment they met an empty tomb. Beside the tomb stood two angels who said to them; “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, He has risen!” (Luke: 24:5) This was the great turning point that transformed the story of Jesus which seemed to have ended with His tragic death on the Cross on Friday evening.

So the story of Easter is not just the story of Jesus’ resurrection from death but also the story of how He was unjustly arrested by the Jews, tried, condemned and crucified on the cross on account of His stand for Truth and Righteousness. From a spiritual perspective, Easter is the story of humanity’s ascent to Divinity.

It is the dramatic spiritual journey that everyone must undertake to emancipate oneself from the bondage of death and ignorance and enter into the glorious light of Immortality and Self Knowledge. In this way, Easter is not just a past event but the day we are born again into Enlightenment.

The Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem

Jesus went with His disciples to the Jewish religious center of Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. It was an important feast celebrated annually in commemoration of the Jews’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt. All males older than twelve went to Jerusalem for the holidays. As Jesus entered the city riding on a donkey, pilgrims spread cloths and branches on the road for Him. They shouted in gallant jubilation, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest!” (Matt 21:9). This praise stands in sharp contrast to their latter cry, “Crucify Him!” and their option for a thief to be released in place of the Righteous One. Jesus remained the same in both praise and blame.

When Jesus entered the temple of Jerusalem He saw people sacrificing doves and other living things to God in order to please Him. (Matt 21:12 ) The temple priests had become very corrupt and money–centered. The house of God had been turned into a bazaar and religion had been commercialized. Jesus sought to put an end to these cruel and harmful practices. So Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling and overturned the tables of the money changers. This angered the priests and temple authorities and from then on they looked for a way to kill Him.

The Last Supper

The Jewish feast of Passover has its focal point on a special meal. Jesus had this meal, which was His last supper, with His close disciples before His death. Jesus alone knew the significance of this last evening. So He sat closely with His disciples round a table and showered upon them the very essence of His Love. In a very dramatic and direct manner He gave them the essence of all He had been teaching them.

“While they were at the table He took bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). He also took a cup with some wine and did the same saying, “This Is My Blood”. When Jesus said, “This is My Body” He was teaching the disciples the truth of the Bible and of all the Scriptures: ‘I am not this Body – I do not identify Myself with the body. (Deham Naham – I am not the body. Koham? Soham – Who am I? I am that.) Because I am not the body, I break it and give it up for you. In the same way, you should do the same in My memory. You should give up body consciousness. This is a Divine Command.’

Beyond Body Consciousness

When we say, “this is my cloth” it means I am not the cloth. When I am not the cloth then I can sacrifice it for the good of others. If the body is my ‘thing’ just as the cloth is my ‘thing’, then I cannot say I am the body just as I cannot say I am the cloth. This is the lesson that Swami often exhorts us now and what Jesus taught then. As long as one thinks I am the body, sacrifice is not possible. Without sacrifice it is impossible to attain the Absolute Divinity. We should see ourselves not as the body but as the indwelling Divinity residing in the temple of the body. Again, we should recognize and treat all bodies as embodiments of Divinity.

In the words of beloved Sathya Sai Baba, “when Jesus said that the bread was His flesh and the wine, His blood, he meant that all beings alive with flesh and blood are to be treated as He Himself.” (Divine Discourse of 25th December 1978)

The Oneness of Life

Earlier in His teachings Jesus had told His disciples that “whatsoever you do to any of these, you do it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Seeing the same God in all beings is the true spirit of non–dualism. This advaitic truth is contained in two verses of the Bible: “I AM THAT I AM” (EXODUS 3: 14) and “Be still and know that I AM ” (PSALM 46:10). It is in stillness that we know THAT which is our true nature – the eternal, infinite, immortal and absolute pure existence, dwelling in all beings. This stillness is the silence of the grave. It is the death, not of the physical body, but of the mind. It is the total annihilation of the ego on the cross of self sacrifice.

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

After they had finished eating, Jesus dramatized to His disciples how to sacrifice the body by giving up body identification. To sacrifice the body does not mean to hang one’s throat with a rope as Judas did after he betrayed Jesus. To sacrifice the body means to burn out the body at the altar of selfless service! To prove this, Jesus took a bowel of water and a towel round His waist and started washing the feet of His disciples and wiping them with the towel. When they asked Him why he was doing so, Jesus answered: “I am washing your feet as your servant so that you may learn to serve the world.” (John 13:14) In selfless service we sacrifice our desires, our prosperity, our comforts, our safety and positions and the demands of the flesh for alleviating human misery and serving the helpless and the poor. In essence, Jesus was teaching that selfless service is the easiest and most effective way of going beyond body consciousness and arriving at the Absolute Divinity.

From the upper room where He had His “last supper” with His disciples, Jesus went straight to the garden of Gethsemane with His disciples (Matthew 26:36). In this place He prayed to His Father with intense agony. “His sweat was like drops of blood” (Luke 22:44, Mark 14:32) He prayed to the Father, “Abba Father, everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me.” (Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39). At the same time He submitted to the Will of His Father.

Usually we pass through this stage of rejection in our spiritual journey. This corresponds to Arjuna’s despondency before the battle field of Kurukshetra. At this level we ask the same questions: why me? What have I done to merit this situation? Take this suffering away from me! etc. Many people never go beyond this level. Normally what is rejected comes back. It is like suppressed anger or emotion. It usually manifests in a different and sometimes more dangerous form. Jesus is teaching us here that we should go beyond rejection and accept as God’s Will everything that happens to us on our path to Truth.

Jesus Demonstrates Acceptance of God’s Will

Acceptance ushers in a process of transformation and purification. This is the level where we accept with joy everything that happens to us as the Will of God and therefore ultimately bound to work out for our highest good. Jesus went through this stage when He prayed: “I want your Will to be done, not mine” (Mark 14:36). When we accept our lives as an expression of God’s Will, sufferings begin to have a refining effect on our souls. The external push and buffeting of Karma now pulls us inwards and draws us closer to the warmth and love of our inner Christ -Consciousness.

While Jesus was praying He invited his disciples to keep watch and pray with Him. But the fatigue and weariness of the body did not allow them to fulfill this. They were heavy with sleep. Jesus chided them for this behaviour (Matthew 26:40).

Meanwhile, the leading priests and leaders were meeting at the residence of Caiphas the high priest to discuss how to capture Jesus and secretly put Him to death. They tempted Judas, one of Jesus’ loved disciples with 30 silver pieces to betray Him into their hands. Judas succumbed to this temptation and betrayed His Master. Greed for money is a monster that gets hold of man and makes him lose all sense of discrimination and accept without compunction wrongful ways of satisfying it. Whenever we opt for falsehood in place of Truth, we betray Jesus again and again.

The Arrest and Trial

As Jesus was leaving the Garden, Judas appeared with the crowd armed with swords and clubs sent by the chief priests and elders to arrest Jesus. Jesus addressed His betrayer as ‘friend’ and offered no resistance when He was arrested. When this happened all His Disciples deserted Him and fled (Matthew 26:56). How many times we desert God when the road gets tough! True worship lies in standing with God in both pain and pleasure and accepting both with equal mindedness.

Following His arrest in Gethsemane, Jesus was first brought before the former high Priest Annas who conducted a preliminary examination by questioning Jesus about His disciples and teaching (John 18:12 -14). He was then taken to the Palace of Caiphas the president of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish tribunal during the Greek and Roman periods.

Because of the contradicting testimonies brought against Jesus, Caiphas brushed these aside and put Jesus under oath to tell the court if He was “the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26: 63). Jesus’ positive affirmation to this question made Caiphas tear his robe and charge Jesus with blasphemy. When this happened the storm was let loose. The guards began to spit in His face and strike Him with their fists. After blindfolding Him, they slapped Him and said, “Prophesy to us Christ, who hit you?” (Luke 22:63-65). In all this, Jesus remained calm and silent.

Since the Romans had removed from the Sanhedrin the power of capital punishment, it became necessary to secure a death sentence from the Governor. They stirred up the common people to call for Jesus’ death. They told Pilate, the fifth Roman Governor of Judea (AD: 26-36) that Jesus was attempting to make Himself king and so He should be punished for treason. When Jesus explained to Pilate the nature of His Kingdom saying, “My kingdom is not of this world”, Pilate announced a verdict of acquittal (John 18:33-38). This verdict could have ended the trial but it only evoked storms of bitter charges against Jesus by the instigations of the priests. They wanted Jesus dead by all means.

 

Pilate reviewed the case before the people wanting to prove the innocence of Jesus. He offered them a compromise in an effort to appease their rage and thirst for blood. He sent Jesus to be scourged before releasing Him. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head. They clothed Him in a purple robe and ridiculed Him saying, “Hail King of the Jews!” and they struck Him in the face (John 19:1). After this torture Jesus was in a pathetic situation. Then Pilate brought Him out to the Jews gathered outside to be released as he thought enough punishment had been meted out. But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (John 19:6). Pilate did not want to condemn Jesus to death. He offered the Jews another compromise. It is customary for Pilate to release one prisoner for the Jews on the occasion of this festival. When the Jews demanded for this customary right, Pilate offered them the choice between Barabbas, a notorious murderer and Jesus the Christ. They people shouted for Barabbas, demanding that Jesus be crucified (Luke21:18). They opted for a murderer of life, in place of the Giver and sustainer of life.

When Pilate further tried to save the life of Jesus, the Jews threatened him that he was no friend of Caesar the Roman Emperor if he set Jesus free “since anyone who claims to be King opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). This made Pilate really afraid. He finally yielded to the people’s wish and sought to absolve himself of the guilt of Christ’s death by publicly washing his hands. The people accepted the responsibility of Jesus’ death saying “let His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25). Meanwhile, Peter the head of the disciples had denied Jesus three times as Jesus predicted he would (Mark 14:34). How many times we deny God when our selfish interests are at stake! One should be prepared to sacrifice anything for the sake of God and His massage.

The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus

The Governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorian, inside the palace, and gathered a mob of soldiers around Him. There they subjected Jesus to some inhuman torture one of which was His scourging at a pillar. Scourging by lashing was a common punishment in ancient times. Roman scourges had pieces of metal or bones attached to the lashes. Jesus was stripped to the waist and bound to a pillar in a stooping position. The body of Jesus was horribly lacerated so that He was bleeding heavily. After this, they led Him away to crucify Him. Jesus had to drag a heavy cross-beam made from a tree on His shoulders to the place of crucifixion.

At this place called the Skull (or Golgotha ) which stands on a hill outside the city, Jesus was stripped of His garments and nailed on His own cross along with two criminals – one on His right and the other on His left. On the way to Golgotha, Jesus failed three times under the heavy weight of the cross. Once the soldiers compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, to carry His cross when they suspected that Jesus might die on the way. At the foot of the cross stood Mary, the Mother of Jesus and other women who sympathized with Him (John 19:25). One could only imagine the agony of the Mother of Jesus at the sight of her son so cruelly treated.

Jesus hung on the cross for close to three long hours. While hanging on the cross Jesus expressed concern for His mother (John 19:25). He prayed for forgiveness for those responsible for the crucifixion because they do not know what they did (Luke 23:24). He promised Paradise to the criminal that was crucified with Him (Luke 23:39-43). The soldiers cast lots for who will take His garment and scornfully challenged Him to escape from the cross if His claims to be the Son of God were true.

It was customary to break the bones of the crucified men to speed up their dying so as to remove the bodies before the Holy day that followed. When the soldiers came to Jesus they found out that He was already dead so they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear and “blood and water” flowed out of the side of Jesus (John 19:33 -35). This fulfilled Old Testament prophesies that the Messiah’s bones would not be broken and that His side would be pierced with a spear (Exodus, 12:46; Psalm 34:20; Zechariah 12:10).

At mid-afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Father into your hands I surrender my Spirit” and merged in the principle of Divinity (Luke 23:46). This is the final step in the ladder of Self Realization. It is described as the art of self surrender; that passive effortless state of no-will. It cannot be called darkness and it cannot be called light. It is neither nothingness nor can it be described as something. It is not being and it is not non-being. Beyond thought and beyond reason, beyond imagination and transcending understanding, the Sages call it THAT for lack of expression.

Immediately Jesus surrendered Himself to the Father, we are told that the Sun stopped shining (Luke 23:45 ) and the curtain of the Jewish Temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two. Thus – self surrender tears the curtain (illusion) that separates us from God. When this happens, the illumination of the Self–Effulgent–Sun of the Atma extinguishes all other lights that are derived from it.

The Resurrection

Jesus’ body was placed in a tomb that belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. No one was more surprised than the disciples of Jesus when they heard that the man they had seen die on Friday was walking around on Sunday! (Matthew 28:2-15; Mark 16:1-11; Luke24 1-12; John20:1-18) At first, it seemed to them like hysterical nonsense.

But when Jesus appeared to them again and again, they could not deny it any longer. Thomas only believed after he had put his hands in the nail marks on the body of Jesus (John 20:24 -24). The resurrection had in fact transformed the tragedy of the crucifixion into a triumph for all humanity.

The Spiritual Glory of Easter

Easter is more than a festival of Enlightenment. Easter is also a prayer of Light. We pray to the risen Christ to lead us from the unreal to the real, from darkness to the Light and from death to Immortality. On this spiritual journey Jesus makes an invitation to all of us.

“If anyone wants to be my disciple, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24, Luke 14:27) On the path of spiritual emancipation, everyone has his cross to carry. It is the cross of karmic debt and worldly tendencies that lie deep at different levels of our conscious, subconscious and unconscious states. This debt has to be balanced and the tendencies cleared. Jesus tells us the best way to do this: “Take up your cross and follow the Master”. Then and only then can you be sure of winning the battle of life. Beloved Sathya Sai Baba gives us the same recipe: “Follow the Master, Face the devil, Fight to the end, Finish the game!”

The devil here is body identification. It is the root of all sorrows and sufferings. It is the Original sin of Christian theology! We have to face this devil and make the first giant step in our spiritual ascendance. We have to declare the truth with courage: ‘I am not the body, I am not the mind. Therefore I remain unaffected by the dualities of the body – mind complex. In this state of equanimity, I must follow the Master.’

The master is the inner conscience, the Sound of Silence or the inner voice of Krishna (= Krist–na) seated on the Chariot of Arjuna (= the heart of the devotee) on the battle field of Dharmakshetra (= the way of the cross). When we listen and follow the Divine instructions (= the Gita) of the Master (= Krist or Krishna ) then victory is sure. That victory is the Resurrection of the Immortal Self in the incarnated life.

When the ego disappears then God resurrects. This is the meaning of the Cross: the cutting of the “I” right across. It is the essence of Christianity. The Christian cross is a symbol for the elimination of the ego. Without the Cross, this dissolution of the ego, there is no resurrection. When we choose to follow Jesus on the way of the cross, the spiritual path of the death of the ego, we must be ready to crucify the old little self that lives on anger, jealousy, greed, hate and body attachment and rise to our glorious immortal Self of Truth, Love, Peace and Right Conduct.