Nisan 11: Jesus Institutes the Holy Law of Love

Saturday, March 23, 2013

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On the ancient Hebrew calendar, Jesus was executed on Nisan 15 (i.e., the fifteenth day of the Hebrew month called Nisan). It was the day following the Passover meal on Nisan 14, which always falls on a full moon. In modern Judaism, the ancient calendar is still used for the observance of Passover. And this year, Passover -- Nisan 14 -- occurs this coming Tuesday, March 26. That means yesterday on the Hebrew calendar was Nisan 11. But in Christian observance, Nisan 11 is commemorated this coming Tuesday. Let me explain why this is important.

For starters, tomorrow is Palm Sunday, which celebrates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem during the final week of his life. It is also the start of Holy Week (or Passion Week) in western Christianity, which observes the final activities and preaching of Jesus up to and including his trial, torture, and execution. As such, the events of Nisan 11 would fall observantly on this upcoming Holy Tuesday.

But why is Nisan 11 -- Holy Tuesday -- so important? Because among the many things Jesus said and did (see Matthew 21:23–24:51, Mark 11:20–13:37, Luke 20:1–21:36, and John 12:20–38), the most important of them was his institution of the Holy Law of Love:

One of the scribes [asked Jesus], "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12:28-31, NRSV)

For those of us who identify as Emergents and are Christians of a new kind who follow the Jesus Way, the Holy Law of Love -- the Greatest Commandment -- is the foundation of our faith life, and the very substance of the Gospel. No other "rule" or commandment guides us, because as Jesus said, "there is no other commandment greater than these."

For Emergents such as myself, the institution of the Holy Law of Love is our "Mount Sinai moment" (see Exodus 19:5-8, 24:7-8, and Deuteronomy 6:1-6). And where Jesus was executed four days later, breathing his last breath for the sake of this Holy Law of Love, we can revision the breaking of his body and the pouring out of his blood as the inaugural divine witness "sealing" the New Covenant of Love and Joy with all humankind (similarly as the Covenant with the Israelites at Sinai was sealed with the sprinkling of blood from a sacrifice). And in the institution of the Holy Law of Love, and in how Jesus lived for it and died for it, we know the Way to Oneness.

As for Easter Sunday, which celebrates the story of Jesus rising from the grave two days after his death, how can we understand it in a new way, especially for those of us who do not believe in Jesus' resurrection as a physical reality either historically or theologically? Jesus' vision and teachings -- and the universal Truth they bear witness to -- remain alive. And if the Jesus Way is the best way for living authentically and for creating the Oneness which is our human purpose, then "resurrection" need not be confessed as a physical reality, but can be accepted as a powerful spiritual reality by which we can experience the re-creation of new life in the midst of this one.

If we understand Jesus to have been the embodiment of Love, and if we sincerely accept that God is Love, then Jesus "lives" when we abide by the Holy Law of Love. By love we experience Jesus within is, which is to experience God within is. As Jesus is reported to have said:

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one -- I in them and you in me -- so that they may be brought to complete unity." (John 17:20-23)

To live by love is to proclaim "God happens when love happens." The Jesus Way is a living way.

As we remember and revision the impact of Nisan 11 (Holy Tuesday), Holy Week can now have a new, more profound meaning for us Emergents who cannot embrace the old theologies of traditional Christianity. We can observe Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday with fresh meaning that transfigures our faith for living renewed lives of holiness as Christians of a new kind.

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