When Br. Layton asked me to speak on Easter, I immediately thought of this painting called the "Light of the world" that hangs in St Paul's Cathedral in London.
"The Light of the World" is an allegorical painting made by William Hunt in the 1850's. Jesus stands at an overgrown door - without a handle, holding a lantern and his other hand raised to knock. A visual metaphor for Rev. 3:20:
"Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me."
The characters in her books comment that the tone and character of the painting seems to change each time they look at it. As if the message it conveys is different each time. I think the scriptures can be like this. You can read the same stories at different times with different needs and get a different message. This year's study and focus on the New Testament has been a good one for me and I have noticed different messages as I have struggled some with my faith throughout this year. It has felt like the scriptures seemed tuned to that frequency. Many of the stories that leapt out to me seem to each had a focus on faith/doubt.
For example, Mark 5:30:
"He asked, What is the kingdom of God like or with what may we compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which when it is sown in the earth, it is the smallest of all the seeds of the earth, but when it is sown, it sprouts and becomes greater than any of the plants, and it grows great branches, so that the birds of heaven are able to rest under it's shade."
It intrigues me because mustard seeds are not the smallest in the world - that probably goes to orchid species that have seeds that are like dust and blown in the wind they are so tiny. Mustard plants aren't even the largest plant - that certainly are trees that are larger than that. Mustard species are winter or spring annuals so they require reseeding each year, although they may survive over winter. This parable I don't see as simply as I once did. Faith like a mustard seed might need to be replanted to grow enough to sustain the birds of heaven.
And again, just a few verses later, they are in a boat and a storm rose. The apostles were afraid and Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. They woke him because they thought they might die - He rebuked the wind and it stopped. The storm listened to his words and obeyed. Then he kind of rebuked his disciples. " Why are you fearful? Have you no faith?" And they were afraid.
It is not as easy for us to believe as it is for the wind that knows its creators voice. Even the disciples that walked with him and saw the miracles seem riddled with doubts and sometimes even deny that they knew him. Peter did three times, because he was afraid. Did his faith falter at that moment as well? I think it must have. I think even Jesus must have been frustrated and alone when people didn't seem to understand his teachings. Either the writers of the gospels intentionally used the disciples incomprehension as a narrative device to explain to the reader the meaning of parables and teaching, or much of Jesus' life he taught students that didn't understand him. He certainly felt alone and abandoned in his last moments in life.
I am not sure that as Mormons we are that good at Easter. I attended my friend's Easter Vigil on Saturday and it was striking how important this religious holiday is to them. I once was in a ward where we planned out the topics and speakers for talks a year in advance. But Easter is not a fixed date on the calendar and somehow we missed it. The topic that week was from the Family Proclamation, not a word planned for Easter. The last speaker kind of paused, realizing that she was the last speaker and no one was going to address it if she didn't - put down her prepared remarks and bore her testimony of Easter and the resurrected Christ.
Why is Easter a wandering holiday? It is based on a lunar calendar to align with the commemoration of Passover an even older holy day that has double meaning for Christians during Easter. We on this day remember:
The miraculous deliverance of Israel from slavery of the Egyptians.
- The night where the Angel of Death took the firstborn from all the houses in Egypt without the doorposts marked with the blood of an unblemished lamb.
- That they had to leave so fast that they had no time for leaven bread and ran for the sea.
- That the lord stood between them and the pursuing army like a pillar of smoke and fire.
- And that coming to the sea, the Lord parted the sea and the passed on dry ground with the walls of water on either side, which crashed down and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army.
- On this week is when Jesus blessed bread and wine and told his disciples to remember his blood and his body. He reminded them that he was like the Paschal lamb, unblemished and with the power to deliver them through his sacrifice.
- On this day we remember that he was betrayed and delivered to his enemies to be falsely accused, beaten, tortured and killed by crucifixion.
- We commemorate on this day that he knelt in prayer, wanting to know if the bitter cup could pass, but willing to do his father's will and as described in D&C 19:16 "For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all that they might not suffer, if they repent. But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I. Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore and to suffer both body and spirit and would that I might not drink the bitter cup and shrink - Nevertheless, glory be to the father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."
- And this day we remember that the women that loved him came to anoint his body and finish the hurried burial arrangements, but the tomb was empty.
- We remember Mary Magdalene in the garden, crying, "Where have they taken my Lord" to the two angels that sat where the body had been and that Jesus appeared, asking her " Whom do you seek? Women, why do you weep? She thought he was the gardener and said to him, " Sir if you have taken him, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her "Mary" She turned and knew his voice and called him "Teacher" He urged her not to hold him back because he had not ascended and she came and told the disciples, " I have seen the Lord!"
- We remember that he returned and walked and talked with his disciples. That he urged them to teach each other and the world about his doctrine's and history. That he did overcome death.
- And for me, I remember Thomas and the other disciples that did not have a perfect faith in even the words of their friends and fellow apostles, but needed to see Christ for themselves, to hear his words, to see him eat and drink, and to touch his hands and feet.