The sum and substance of the Christian faith is found in the story of Holy Week, the days between Palm Sunday and Easter Day. Every year the Christian community practices that story, either in drama, reading, or liturgy.
That is not commonly known to the many in the general public outside the Christian Community. Over the centuries other stories (myths*) have come to share the importance of the Holy Week commentary, leading many to believe that Christmas, or Pentecost, or one of the other traditions of Christianity hold more importance. But the fact is that if there was no more to the story of Christianity than the events of this very special seven days, it would be complete.
The other stories and traditions of Christianity are important in supporting the Holy Week traditions. But in the first centuries of Christianity the compelling story was that of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem when he was approximately 33 years old. He is celebrated, reviled, tried, convicted, betrayed, killed, and then rises from the dead in this short 7 day sequence. That is the story that the first disciples told and upon which the unbelievable growth of the Jesus movement took place. It is a story of faith…belief and testimony.
It was much later (actually centuries) when the stories of Jesus’ birth were told, and there is much in that story that is questionable. It was told to make a point and “prove” something about the dual character of Jesus (mortal and immortal.) But the historical story of Jesus’ death upon the Cross and his rising from the dead was that which was the foundation of faith.
There are some (including some Christian scholars) who believe that the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection has been embellished as well. They have identified segments of the story that are hard to hold as factual. But there is something holy/sacred about that story that defies contradiction. It is a consistent story with the early disciples, especially those who witnessed the events themselves. Historical documents of the Roman Empire and the Hebrew scholars make reference to a crucifixion which bear similar characteristics to this biblical account. And the power of the testimony given by the eyewitnesses is hard to explain apart from truth.
When the first generation of disciples died and the task of evangelism was passed along to new generations, the story continued to have the same power. It is the only explanation for the rapid growth and fervor which created the massive conversions of people to the Jesus movement.
It is harder for people in this skeptical and overly-secular world to embrace the power of faith found in the story of Holy Week. Christianity, itself, has done great damage to itself by emphasis on lesser issues and dogmas. Denominations and traditions have embraced less significant issues upon which to build their story. Arguments as to whether Christianity is an extension of Judaism or a completely separate faith system prevail.
Whether Jesus of Nazareth was born as “the Son of God” or whether he was the “adoptive” demonstration of God has been argued and remains a question for theologians and everyday Christians to debate. But, ultimately, the question of Jesus’ having risen from the dead after being crucified on a hill outside the city of Jerusalem remains the seed of understanding of the Christian faith. There are libraries full of books of argument and dogma. But it was a simple story, told to uneducated people in the Middle East following the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth that holds over the centuries as the singularly most important fact of Christian faith.
Illustration Credit: www.faberspirituality.org.au
* I use the term myth in the same context in which Joseph Campbell uses it to describe stories that hold truths and are sacred to peoples.