Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter - Supersizing Your Optimism

Jesus was at the Last Supper with his disciples. He looked around the table. In one direction he saw Judas Iscariot, and recognized betrayal in his eyes. He then looked the other way and saw Peter sitting near the door, as if he was ready to escape. Then he noticed Thomas across from him, looking doubtful and unsure. Jesus looked up and down the table, then called the waiter over. He whispered in the waiter’s ear, “We’re going to need separate checks please.”

Very wise move! Did you ever wonder why they were all crowded on one side of the table at the Last Supper? Surely it wasn’t to make it easier for Leonard Da Vinci to paint the scene! It reminds me of a 70s sitcom with the perfect family sitting on one side of their perfect dinner table, speaking nicely to each other. In our family, we try to spread right around the table to avoid conflict.

A meal that involved Jesus would have been like a real family dinner table; noisy, messy and open to every teen friend in search of a meal. There would have been a LOT of people present, certainly a lot more than 12. The closest disciples would have been reclining around the table, meaning that they would have been sitting on benches with their feet on the outside of the table. It would have been busy. People would have come in and out from the streets to sit at the feet of the disciples and listen to the conversation. It would have been busy and public. Meals were the symbol of inclusion for Jesus and what became known as the Last Supper would have been no different. It’s likely that many social and religious rules of the day would have been broken; maybe there were women at the table. Maybe they didn’t wash their hands before eating. A big and open table was always more important to Jesus than religious purity. Part of Jesus’ unique style was not only mingling with women, but acting like one as well. For example one of the most radical features of the Last Supper was that Jesus broke the bread himself, and served it to his friends. The disciples were peasants and would never have been served by slaves, but would usually be served by women. Jesus challenging them to love in a new way; a love that transcended gender as well as social and religious etiquette. The Easter value is that it’s more important to treat people than to be right. Easter is not about beliefs, or religious ritual. It’s about compassion and inclusion.

Double Dipping with Jesus

The image that we tend to have of the Last Supper is distorted by the overly familiar scene. For example- What fruit is depicted in Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper, even though it was not seen in the Mediterranean until well after Jesus’ death? The orange.

Art historians have now revealed that Leonardo probably depicted Jesus and his disciples eating eel with orange slices, very trendy for the time that Da Vinci was alive. Eel was the Edamame of the 1400s. In the first century, it would have been more likely that they would have been eating unleavened bread and lamb, probably with dipping bowls full of bitter herbs, chopped fruit, nuts and wine. There were definitely no oranges. They used dipping bowls to share food. There is no greater intimacy than double dipping with a friend. Double dipping with Jesus would be quite a thrill. Again, we see the spirit of Jesus. He was prepared to double dip even with his enemies and betrayers. Surely that’s part of the spirit of Easter- to stretch beyond your comfort zone and share some level of intimacy with friends and enemies alike.

It was revealed in the news this week that depictions of the Last Supper have changed over the centuries. Apparently the portion size has increased 70% in the 1000 years from 1000AD to 2000AD. The Last Supper has been supersized. Again, this probably reflects the eras in which various artists created their depictions. The Mediterranean world of the first century would have included small meals, with plenty of protein and the people would have been a lot slimmer than the Germanic people portrayed in 14th century art.

What do you think of cultural reinterpretations of Jesus? I have no problem with depictions of Jesus that are culturally relevant. At home I have a series of Jesus action figures. Next to my pope soap on a rope, I have bobble head Jesus with eyes that follow you around the room and Jesus mounted on wheels so he can walk without moving his feet under his toga. My favorites are the Big Lebowski Jesus figure and baseball Jesus. It’s all in good fun. It seems normal and healthy to portray Jesus in ways that make sense in a particular context. The issue I have is when Jesus is used to promote values that seem contrary to his life.

The release of the report about supersizing the Last Supper coincided with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution premiere on American television. He transformed school lunches in the UK, and now he has turned his attention to the US. Obesity and mindless eating are a huge problem in America. The statistic that has shocked me most is that due to obesity, the current generation of kids could be the first generation in over 200 years that doesn’t live as long as their parents. There is a culture of poor nutrition taking hold in America.

Jamie Oliver went into classrooms where the kids couldn’t name any of the vegetables, even a tomato.

Now doesn’t it seem ironic to you that Easter has become a time to gorge on copious quantities of low grade chocolate? Doesn’t it seem like a bad dieting strategy to fast during Lent, then binge on chocolate at Easter? Surely the values associated with Easter should include wellness and mindfulness.

Food and eating are a great way to honor the spirit of Jesus’ values. Jesus didn’t say, “Super size your meals in remembrance of me.” He said eat moderately and super size your mindfulness. One of the best ways you can live Easter values is to join the food revolution. Eat mindfully and help children to eat mindfully. What you choose to eat affects you, your families, the economy, the environment and all living things on the planet.

The way you can eat in memory of Jesus is to open yourself to the whole experience of food as a microcosm of life. Remember the prayer of Buddhist Monk Thick Nhat Hahn- This plate now empty will soon be filled with precious food. In this food I see the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence. Many beings are struggling for food today. May all have enough to eat. I would add- Many beings are eating mindlessly. May all eat mindfully.

Listen to the sizzle in the pan, the bubbling in the pot. Smell the aromas in the air, the scent on the hands. Look at the beauty of all that earth has provided. Gaze at the food on your plate and trace its evolution from seed to table. Hold warm bread in your hands and feel it warm your body. Allow food to come into contact with every tastebud. Close your eyes, shut your ears, and let the food in your mouth become a part of your being.

Supersize Your Character

So there is a distinction between the details of the historic events and the values that Jesus lived and died for. The details of the history are questionable at best. The evidence for a physical resurrection is slim. So it begs the question- Why should we celebrate Easter at all? It’s an ancient tradition borrowed from pagan sources. Most of it didn’t happen the way the story suggests, and the mainstream Easter message is that Jesus died for your sins and rose for your salvation. If I tell you that you don’t need to be saved from anything, and the death of Jesus had nothing to do with sin and redemption, is there any point in celebrating Easter?

If Easter reminds you to join the evolution revolution, then it’s worth celebrating Easter. If Easter reminds you that nature’s patterns are wise and you should respect the earth, then Easter is worth celebrating. If Easter reminds you that there is always the possibility of starting over and making amends, and that new possibilities so often emerge out of death and loss, then Easter is worth celebrating. If Easter reminds you that you don’t need a physical resurrection because you have an awareness of resurrection within and around you, at your finger tips at any time, then it’s well worth celebrating Easter.

Just in case you think the demands of an Easter revolution are impossible, remember that you only have to do the best you can. The last thing we want to do is replace the impossible standards of a wrathful God with a new impossible standard. You don’t have to be perfect, just be mindful. I remember once seeing a group of monks, in their saffron robes, eating at McDonald’s. Even monks eat Big Macs from time to time. So don’t set impossible standards for yourself. Make small changes in your life and your family’s life and join the revolution.

Have you seen the world’s largest cross? It’s not far from here, in Indian River. I went there a few years ago. It’s a super-sized cross. In Australia, we proudly show off the world’s largest pineapple. In NZ, I visited the world’s largest can of pop. In Ohio, I visited the world’s largest basket. Kitsch is one thing. But the world’s largest cross? It’s an eerie thing to ogle at the world’s largest cross, a bit like visiting the world’s worst massacre or staring at the world’s most horrendous accident.

We don’t need supersized crosses. We need supersized vision; a vision for a world united by love, and an understanding that the common humanity that unites us is so much more significant than the differences that divide us.

The Easter message is to supersize your character and not your possessions. Supersize your compassion, not your religious purity. Supersize what comes out of your mouth, rather than what goes into your mouth. Supersize your inner strength rather than your outer physique. Supersize your optimism and love for all people, rather than bitterness and negativity. Supersize your inner world and then you will always have enough and you will see resurrection everywhere.
Easter light in me honors supersized optimism in you. Happy Easter and Namaste.

For Further Reflection-
How important are the historical details of the Easter story?
Is resurrection a meaningful metaphor, even without a literal, physical resurrection of Jesus?
What do you see as the values of Jesus’ life?

What does Easter mean to you?