The Friday before Easter Sunday is traditionally considered the day of Jesus' crucifixion so long ago. Growing up in a devote Catholic family Good Friday included going to church between the hours of noon and 3 p.m. to recite the Stations of the Cross.
Roman Catholic churches typically had along its side walls seven plaques on each side: each illustrating and commemorating an incident told in the Bible of an event that took place on the day of Jesus' crucifixion beginning with the judgment that he was to be crucified and ending with his burial. The total "stations" are fourteen and a priest, accompanied by an altar boy, would go from station to station recounting the incident and offering prayers as the congregation followed along.
The crucifixion is THE symbol of Christianity and its message. Christianity considers, by contrast, Jesus' resurrection as simply miraculous. The former being relevant to our salvation and the latter being proof of Jesus' stature as the "son of God!"
Contemplation of the suffering of Jesus for our sins has inspired numerous great saints such as St. Francis who was the first saint to receive the stigmata: the wounds of Christ on his body. I believe the Catholic Church has recognized perhaps several hundred cases of the stigmata. The two most famous cases in the 20th century are Padre Pio (southern Italy) and Therese Neumann (Bavaria, Germany).
So before we blithely dismiss the Christian emphasis of the crucifixion at the expense of its concomitant victory in the resurrection, we should at least consider its meaning to us here and now. That meaning is deeply relevant but not wholly complete. The teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda on the life of Jesus Christ reveal deeper and more universal meanings than can be owned by any religion or sect.
Jesus came into his human life free from the compulsion of past karma (aka "sin"). He was what in India is called an "avatar." His mission changed the course of history but it also brought salvation (soul-freedom in God) to "as many as received Him." An avatar has the power to uplift countless souls who "receive" his teachings and vibration into their souls. By this measure, therefore, it is not wrong to say Jesus died for our sins. But the extent to which our sins are actually forgiven depends on us and the depth of our "receiving."
In the case of Padre Pio, for example, his attunement to his guru was so deep that Jesus' wounds appeared on his body. This doesn't mean that the stigmata is the sole indicator of salvation (fortunately!). But neither should it be dismissed as fanatical.
Swami Kriyananda was inspired to write the Festival of Light while taking seclusion in Italy back in the 1980's. It was there that the profound, poetic, and uplifting message of the new dispensation of Self-realization flowed through him via his attunement and dharma. In one sentence the Festival states that "whereas in the past pain and suffering were the coin of man's redemption for us now the payment has been exchanged for calm acceptance and joy."
This one sentence brings into focus the relationship between the crucifixion and the resurrection. The crucifixion represents a reminder for us to be willing to calmly accept what life brings to us while the resurrection reminds us that "joy is the fruit of love for God." This latter quote is taken from the sentence in the Festival of Light that follows the one above. The complete sentence is important. It says: "Thus may we understand that pain is the fruit of self-love, whereas joy is the fruit of love for God.
Humanly speaking who can avoid flinching upon contemplating the pain and agony of Jesus' crucifixion? One of the first great debates in Christianity was whether Jesus, as the son of God, experienced ANY pain! Yogananda stated that Jesus had the power and consciousness to rise above the bodily pain but choose to experience pain as part of his sacrifice in taking on the karma of many. Jesus' greatness, Yogananda insisted, was more in the forgiveness he asked of God the Father on behalf of his self-styled enemies than even for the resurrection of his body (a feat that Swami Sri Yukteswar and Lahiri Mahasaya both showed after the death of their bodies). At one point Jesus is said to have cried out to his guru, Elias as he experienced a kind of "dark night of the soul" wherein his otherwise unbroken connection with the Father was temporarily taken from him. Jesus was willing to go even past the point of his "knowing" of cosmic consciousness for the sake of the salvation of other souls.
But, that was his choice. But for us now the payment in pain has been exchanged for joy. For we can better now understand that joy is what comes of divine attunement and that pain is of the ego, attached to the body. Ours is a deeper understanding for which large swathes of humanity are prepared to receive. St. Francis, though racked with pain, even raised the dead and died with the joy of a song of praise on his lips! As true and great saint even in the darkest period of the Middle Ages St. Francis experienced Christ as joy not sorrow. Padre Pio, too, though his body and mind suffered greatly by his attunement with his master, his spirit was one of great love for people and joy in the contemplation of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost!
The resurrection is the necessary corollary to demonstrate outwardly that joy is the fruit of accepting our trials with equanimity and faith. "Thy will be done!"
Tomorrow, Holy Saturday, online from 10 a.m. to 12 noon we will review the Stations of the Cross and see their application to the soul's long journey through time and space to the Redemption. It's not too late to register on our website www.AnandaWA.org