Life is an ongoing test

Michael BURKE

Thursday, April 17, 2014    

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TODAY being Holy Thursday, there will be the re-enactment of the Lord's Supper in many Christian churches. There will be the traditional washing of the feet. This was the way in which Jesus said that we should live. In many instances, we Jamaicans live like that, but we need to move even closer to that way of living.

The Lord's Supper was tied to a major political anniversary in the Jewish calendar. The Passover is both the emancipation and the original political independence of the Jewish people. The Passover observance is highlighted in the Agape (love feast), where every dish represents some part of the history from slavery in Egypt through the 40 years in the wilderness to the Promised Land.

And it was at the annual Passover meal that Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples. This was when he also took the unleavened Passover bread and the traditional grape wine and, in the faith of Catholics and Orthodox Christians, converted them into his Body and Blood. In partaking of this as Holy Communion, we should be even more close as one family than in only the washing of each other's feet.

Jesus Christ was arrested after finishing the traditional Passover Supper. This is what we commemorate today (Holy Thursday). On the following day Jesus was crucified (Good Friday).

Jesus was arrested on the bidding of his fellow countrymen (the Jews, the chosen people of God), who shouted: "Crucify him!" which the Roman governor Pontius Pilate was reluctant to do .

The fact that the descendants of the original Jews who made a covenant with the Almighty demanded the crucifixion of Jesus is an indication to historians, religious or otherwise, that life is really an ongoing test for all of us. There is no 'once-and-for-all' conversion.

We have a class system in Jamaica that is counter-cultural to the washing of the feet and communion. Our class system goes back to the days of slavery. Even with political independence we simply have not been able to knock the class system — once and for all — any more than the problem of crime and violence.

In the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, class prejudice is a sin. The fact that there are some Roman Catholics who do not follow the doctrine of the church in this should not confuse anyone with what we do in fact teach.

The role of the prophets, as published in the Old Testament of the Bible, was to warn the ancient Jews over and over again to turn back to the Lord instead of turning away from God and returning to sin. And here we are speaking about the chosen people of God who knew the oppression by Pharaoh in Egypt.

These were the same people whose prayers were answered by God when oppression ended after fleeing Egypt and spending 40 years in the wilderness. Indeed, in the belief of Christians, God sent his Son into the world, born into the Jewish race, to show the Jews and everyone else the way to the Father.

It should, therefore, be no surprise that almost 18 centuries after the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1776), idealists fleeing oppression in Europe would set up a nation and have a constitution where it is inscribed that all men would be free, a nation that would be known as the United States of America.

This same USA would subsequently have their internal problems of class and colour prejudice and would also be guilty of some of the cruelest slavery in the world. And they would also have the Monroe doctrine, named after one of their presidents James Monroe, where America's interests would come first regardless of who gets hurt in the process.

Yet the ideals expressed by its first President George Washington and the other founding fathers of the USA in their constitution was great and inspiring to people desirous of freedom throughout the world. This is why, according to National Hero Norman Washington Manley himself, his parents gave him the middle name in honour of George Washington.

In similar manner, the communist revolution in the Soviet Union was to be the panacea for all the ills embodied in the serfdom in Russia up to 1917. But this turned out to be another type of oppression, and eventually the communist system in the Soviet Union came to an end on Christmas Day 1992. But what happened after communism was abolished in the Soviet Union? The racial prejudice that was suppressed during the revolution returned and manifested itself as 'ethnic cleansing'.

The celebration of the granting of political independence in August 1962 was comparable to the Easter Vigil in the Roman Catholic Church when the lights are turned off at the beginning of the service. In the last five minutes before midnight August 6, 1962, the lights were shut off in the National Stadium.

The then Deputy Prime Minister Donald Sangster was concerned that criminals may have used the darkness to carry out robberies, which is why it was only for five minutes. And at midnight, when the lights were turned on, there was the discharge of gas balloons to signify the reality of political independence.

In Roman Catholic Churches, the symbolism at the Easter Vigil of turning on the lights after a period of darkness is two-fold. First, it symbolises the resurrection of Jesus, which convinces reasonable persons that Jesus is God, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

And second, that fact connects Jesus to God the Father Almighty who said: "Let there be light."

The resurrection of Jesus is the greatest event in Christianity, not Christmas. If Jesus Christ had not resurrected from the dead, as ultimate proof of his divinity, of what great significance would his birth have been? Still, the resurrection as proof of Jesus' divinity has not, by itself, stopped the temptation to sin. Life is really an ongoing test to see who is worthy of salvation. This means that all of us need to be reminded that we should return to the straight and narrow path. And that is the reason for the 40-day season of Lent before Easter. Have a holy and happy Easter.





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