Easter gives us hope of conquering oppression and injustice

When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple was torn into two. This huge thick curtain separated the general public of worshippers from the most holy place in the Temple building.

Apr 02, 2021

By Anil Netto
When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple was torn into two. This huge thick curtain separated the general public of worshippers from the most holy place in the Temple building.

The most holy place was supposed to be the mystical dwelling place of God at that time. It was an almost bare 15-feet cubeshaped room, which housed the Ark of the Covenant until it went missing in the Sixth Century BC.

Only the high priest could enter this most holy place and that too, only once a year on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood of a goat. He would sprinkle the blood on the “mercy seat”, but once the Ark was gone, he sprinkled it on the foundation stone on which the Ark had once stood.  

The curtain symbolised the separation of the world from the heavens. Psychologically at least, it barred the people from the mystical presence of God. 

It was such a thick curtain that it must have taken scores of people to weave it. It was so large that it would have required scores of priests to wash the curtain — 300 priest, it has been said, though this could be an exaggeration.

The veil was made of linen of several colours – blue, scarlet, purple. These symbolised the elements of the world – air, fire, sea and earth – matter. It had Babylonian tapestry, embroidered with mystical scenes of heaven. 

In a way, the curtain allowed the Temple hierarchy to control “possession” of God in that most holy place. They could determine who was pure and worthy enough to be worthy to physically approach God. 

This put those at the bottom of the social  hierarchy at a disadvantage, not to mention the Gentiles and foreigners and, even Jewish women and children, who were still considered inferior to men. 

But when Jesus died, this majestic curtain, believed to be up to 60 feet high, was torn in two, from top to bottom.

No longer was there to be a separation between God’s mystical presence and our everyday lives and our own experience of the divine.  

The barrier between life and death was broken, as people who had died broke free from their tombs. 

The Resurrection was a vindication of the kingdom that Jesus had proclaimed. The forces of darkness and death – worldly kingdoms – would not have the last word in matters relating to the kingdom of God which Jesus set in motion.

Throughout history, we have seen rulers and leaders oppress, exploit and even kill many people. But the reign of these worldly powers was only fleeting, their kingdoms just temporal.  

At the height of his powers, Julius Caesar declared himself dictator for life in 44 BC. A month later, he was assassinated.

In sharp contrast, Jesus gave us the example of servant leadership. He was put to death  by worldly leaders, but his resurrection vindicated his kingdom, which today is still alive and kicking – long after the Western Roman Empire faded away in the Fifth Century and the Eastern Roman Empire fell in 1453, with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. 

In Myanmar, the military is even now, killing its own people, who are suffering brutal oppression. But their reign of terror will not last, just as other murderous regimes in history did not last. The deaths of so many innocent people will not be in vain, just like Oscar Romero’s was not in vain.

The Victorian poet William Ernest Henley, who had to undergo amputation in one leg but had the other leg saved by the legendary 19th Century surgeon Joseph Lister, wrote a poem, later titled Invictus (Latin for Invincible), which goes:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.  

Nelson Mandela, while imprisoned in Robben Island, shared this poem with his fellow inmates to inspire them in the lesson of self-mastery.

If we paraphrase the last two lines to
The Lord is the master of my fate,
The Lord is the captain of my soul.

the poem gains added power and depth, especially in the light of the Easter message. Archbishop Oscar Romero may have been slain by elements linked to the murderous regime in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s, but his death was not in vain. 

In John 12:24, Jesus says: “In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.”

Romero preached on this in his last sermon shortly before he was gunned down as he raised the host at the altar:

“That is the hope that inspires Christians. We know that every effort to better society, especially when injustice and sin are so ingrained, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”

Yes, the power of the Resurrection makes us invincible to the forces of death and darkness in the long haul. We may be under siege or be in trouble for a while, but the Resurrection gives us hope that the Lord is the master of our destiny, the captain of our soul.

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