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Wednesday, Mar 25, 2015

Holy week: Stories within the story

Special to Hernando Today


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This week is full of stories within what could be called the story of the centuries.

It began with Sunday's story of honor and glory; Tuesday's story of freedom; Thursday's which will be a story of family ties and sad goodbyes; Friday's powerful love story; and this coming Sunday's story of triumph - to be continued.

Palm Sunday's events this past Sunday started as a Christmas story 33 years earlier (although it could be said it started before the beginning of time). It started so well that when the loveable child was born in dire circumstance - in a stable where various animals were milling about - adoring shepherds from the fields nearby and regal kings from afar, bringing gold and other expensive gifts, came to visit.

By the time what we now call Palm Sunday rolled around, Jesus, significantly given the name related to the concept of "salvation," had shown himself to be a gifted child at the age of 12, capable of holding his own in discussing the scriptures with the elders in the synagogue. By the time he was 30, he was earning an international reputation as a teacher.

The fame of the middle class son of a carpenter from Nazareth extended beyond his teaching. He was credited with such spectacular feats as feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish, with healing some who were blind or terminally ill by a touch or merely a spoken word, or even with resuscitating those who were thought to be dead.

Many pinned on him their hopes for a liberator of the Jewish people whose land at the time was under occupation by the Romans. So thousands - waving palm fronds and strewing them in his path during a parade through the streets of Jerusalem - gathered to hail him.

Tuesday's story is a thousand years older with a theme - mankind's desire to be free - that has resonated from man's existence until today. It is the story recounted from Jewish parent to child at the start of the weeklong celebration of Passover.

In the days of Moses, the Israelites for years had been enslaved by a cruel Egyptian Pharaoh. Adopted as a baby by an Egyptian princess (a whole other story), Moses appealed to the Pharaoh, unsuccessfully despite a series of plagues sent by God, to "let my people go."

God forced Pharaoh's hand by sending the angel of death to take the oldest son from every Egyptian home. The homes of believing Jews who followed the Almighty's advice were spared if the family had slain a sacrificial lamb and sprinkled its blood on the door post as a sign to the angel to "pass over." The historic exodus followed.

The main feature of the modern celebration - which includes a prayer of sympathy for the Egyptian families who lost a son - is a meal (called a Seder) of symbolic foods, especially a roasted shank bone reminding of the sacrificial lamb. An untouched glass of wine, an empty chair and a slightly open door indicates the expectation of the return of the prophet Elijah to announce the coming of the Messiah, the author of both physical and spiritual freedom.

Much of that symbolism is carried over to Maundy Thursday whose story shares the themes of Passover, such as the importance of obeying God. In fact, the Last Supper that Jesus shared with his closest followers was a Seder during which he described himself as the sacrificial lamb whose spilled blood would free believers from the slavery to sins. His sacrifice is symbolized in the Lord's Supper (or Communion) as he himself described it.

On TV, you've seen the Pope kneeling to wash someone's feet. That is a Maundy Thursday practice in some churches to demonstrate humility and to follow the example (some consider it a commandment) set by Jesus when he washed the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper.

Then there is Friday's story. The Crucifixion is the grim part of the story leading to a jubilant climax. Some see it as a tragic ending to the uplifting account of a gentle do-gooder whose teaching and example still are followed by millions. But what happened was inevitable.

Jesus, the outspoken Nazarene, had made some powerful enemies along the way. Among them were a handful of religious leaders who had curried favor with the Romans and viewed the influential young teacher as a threat to their own positions of authority. It was an outlook shared somewhat by the Romans. You know the consequence.

But Jesus himself said it was necessary for him to give his own innocent blood on the cross to fulfill prophecies and the familiar Scripture: "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life." That's why his followers see the violent episode of Good Friday as a truly powerful love story with a "happily forever afterward" conclusion.

The story would not be complete without this coming Sunday's story. It is the joyful account of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ who had overcome death. This is confirmation of the belief that he is God who for a time was among us in the flesh. It is a story that gives hope that there are better things to come since he ascended back to heaven to assume his rightful throne.

And true believers look for a sequel. He said he would come again.

Adon Taft was for 37 years the religion editor for The Miami Herald. Now retired, he lives in Brooksville, FL and can be reached at

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