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Jesus is risen

Lance Neita

Monday, April 22, 2019

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Happy Easter to you all. With all the beach bacchanals and the wild wet parties there seems hardly any room left over for the religious observances of the season. Although I must admit I have not seen as many crazy parties advertised this year as per previous years. They must be hiding them from me.

Last year, side by side with the grand gospel concert advertised for the National Stadium, I was invited to step out and paint myself mad at J'Ouvert (whatever that is), and even to get lost at the 'Wrong Address but Right Girl', while Something Fishy was being detected in The Pantry, and the movies were running riot with Death Wish and Acts of Violence. For the record, I declined.

They have turned it down this year. After all, we have had a bellyful with elections, court cases, and scandals in the House. Plus there is enough bun and cheese to go around whether you are in Jamaica or not. And my neighbour Miss Matty's home-baked Easter bun from the old Four Paths days is just a distant memory.

In the meantime, we are in danger of losing our connection with the reason for the season. The familiar sermons will be preached this morning, but by mid-afternoon we will be well into the wet weekend parties. Be that as it may, Easter Sunday, that glorious day of joy and hope, not only marks the end of Lent but is the highlight of what is known as Holy Week. Pause for a moment before you cut the cheese and think of the events that unfolded from Palm Sunday to the Last Supper, and from the surreal trials in the Praetorium to the crucifixion at Gethsemane.

It's a week of human drama of epic proportions and implications. When you study it, there can be no other week like it. Last year, this time, I repeated an article describing the events, putting them into the context of how media coverage, according to today's standards, would have treated Holy Week. Some kind readers asked me for repeat, and I have done so hoping to recapture the magic and excitement of those seven days with the world's best news reporters on location. So here goes for 2019.

It all started with a man named Jesus, son of a humble carpenter, who, together with a bunch of non-descript fishermen and small farmers, had excited the province of Galilee with a three-year ministry that was turning the world upside down. At the beginning of his ministry he had proclaimed himself to be the Messiah long promised to the Jews. There had been other claimants to that title, but they were all what you call 'flash in the pan'. This commoner, without any pretence to great education or noble title or any inheritance, was different from the rest. Without any promises of political insurrection to overthrow governments, his movement grew and grew. As he walked from village to village, and from Judea across Galilee, word spread of his extraordinary powers of healing, his miracles, and his seeming personal acquaintance with the kingdom of God.

To those who opposed him, like the Sadducees and the Pharisees, he was sacrilegious, a “black heart man”, and a distinct threat to the stability of the State and the established church. Most of his followers were simple people; the poor and dispossessed. They were from the very strata of the society where heresy would thrive, and from where the temple leaders realised that he could raise up a following. But he taught with such self-confidence and authority that men would ask who did he think he was or, in Jamaican parlance, “A weh dis ya man come from?” His opponents tried to trap him with leading questions and with provocative debate, but his knowledge of the law was overwhelming.

Then one day came that outrageous pronouncement of his in the precincts of the temple: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Wow! What a shocking statement. What blasphemy! The high priest, Caiaphas, had been kept up to date with the Jesus happenings, and when he heard of this latest claim he became convinced that the man was not only deranged, but needed to be brought down. The Jewish leaders were now fearing that he might be the centre of a popular uprising against Rome, which would lead to reprisals and the loss of their own positions.

Well, that didn't bother Jesus. He was certain of his impending death. No reminder was needed; he had been seen earlier in his mission, at the scene of the transfiguration, conferring with Moses and Elijah on the future happenings that would take place in Jerusalem, including his suffering and his death.

And then there came that fateful day when he left Galilee for Jerusalem, never to return — at least not in mortal form. As he commenced the last lap of his earthly ministry, “He set his face steadfastly towards the city...and told them again that he would be put to death.”

This scared the living daylights out of the disciples. They tried their best to dissuade him from travelling. “They were on the road going up to Jerusalem,” St Mark tells us, “and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.”

Their fear was not without justification. It was Passover time, a mere two years since the bloody suppression of protesters in Jerusalem by the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. And during the Passover feasts Roman forces were known to be on even higher alert than usual. No doubt security in Jerusalem would be tight that week.

The stage was now set for the media to move in. What was to follow would have kept television, radio and newspapers fully focused as event after event catapulted towards an inevitable, earth-shattering ending.

Let's see what was taking place at that time. In the days leading up to Holy Week the headlines would have read, 'Pilate orders heightened security for Passover celebrations'. A sub-story would have added that: “The man Jesus who has been attracting large crowds is on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.” Hmm. Discerning editors would have realised that a news story was in the making. And, as Jesus overnighted in Bethany, the young cub reporter sent out to cover his movements would have filed the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

Now that last item would have made Caiaphas sit up and perhaps call the Sanhedrin together to discuss their own security measures against any disturbance generated by the presence of the mad man in the city.

He decided to call a press conference, but kept it low-key, avoiding the issue of the threat of possible public disorder, and instead reminded the public that the temple authorities had organised the usual market at which young, unblemished lambs could be purchased by pilgrims who wished to offer such for a Passover sacrifice.

But suddenly, and before Caiaphas could complete his press statement designed to take the reporters off track, there was a roar from a massive crowd outside the city walls. The photographers and the journalists rushed from the conference. Jesus and his disciples had joined the throngs of worshippers who were streaming towards the Holy City to celebrate the Passover. Cameras started rolling as the crowd converged on the man who was seated on a donkey riding up to Jerusalem's walls. The people waved palm branches and spread their coats on the ground. They were shouting: “Hosanna!”

'Triumphant Entry, blazed the headlines. 'Huge demonstrations outside Jerusalem city walls, read another.

“It's highly possible that we are about to witness a pivotal turning point in history,” said the major station's leading news analyst that night, “because if the crowd fervour is anything to go by, this man, as simple as he looks, could hold the future of the Jewish nation in his hands. And, as for Caiaphas and others of his ilk”, he warned, “there are many nervous nights ahead for the high priest who, by the end of this week, may not be riding so high after all.”

The excitement had barely died down when Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out all the higglers and money changers who were doing business. He took a whip to them, turned over the tables, and drove them outside. It made prime time news that night. Neither the Romans nor the priests could now ignore the risk that he might stage a violent demonstration. About 40,000 people lived in Jerusalem, but that number swelled to more than 180,000 during the Passover. Jesus was now a marked man.

The city is buzzing. Reporters are rushing from one scene to another as Jesus keeps them busy. The headlines flash across the front pages, 'Arguments in the temple', 'Herod throws lavish holiday party', and, 'Jesus weeps over Jerusalem'. There is a news leak out of the palace that the Passover may be cancelled.

Jesus is hot news and the panellists are busy analysing every step, every detail. Even the donkey that brought him into Jerusalem is interviewed. To add further to the excitement, on Facebook circulates a photo of Judas sneaking out of Caiaphas's house at night. An innkeeper is quoted as saying that the disciples are enjoying the Passover meal in an upper room, address undisclosed. The media is in a frenzy.

Then comes the breaking news all over the networks: 'Jesus has been arrested'. The press tries to follow the trial, but are denied entry to the hall. 'From Pilate to Herod and back', screams the headline. 'Pilate washes his hands' (about time, says his wife as reported in the afternoon scandal paper). 'Crucify Him,' roars the midday news.

And then, at 3:00 pm, more breaking news. Jesus is dead.

Mourning ensues and the streets are quiet; passions are subdued. Groups huddle on street corners, but most people remain indoors. The disciples are in retreat, the dream is over, and their candles are all out. 'The skies over Jerusalem have been darkened,' reports a famous broadcaster. The entire affair was over and done with in little more than a day.

Caiaphas must have dined well that night. He must have leaned back in his chair and assured his dinner guests that this Jesus movement, or whatever they called it, was surely dead and done with.

But, not so fast, High Priest. Something was in the air. It was rumoured that, at the time of his death, the veil of the temple had split into two. Then there was that curious darkening of the land, and the violent earthquake that shook Jerusalem.

But not to worry, the High Priest would say. We have got rid of him, and the media has already put the story to bed. Or had they?

Seventy-two hours later the wire services started clicking again. It was early in the morning but the town was stirring.

A fake news call is made to a talk show that the man's chief disciple Peter was seen running through the streets like a mad man.

Shortly after that the headlines blaze around the world: 'HE IS RISEN!'

Lance Neita is a public relations writer, historian, and wannabe talk show caller. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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