Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Observing Holy Week

By Skip Hellewell

Beginning Sunday, Laguna churches will observe Holy Week, the culmination of the mortal life of Jesus Christ. Priests and pastors will stand on their spiritual tiptoes to rightly reverence the events leading up to Easter Sunday. It’s a good time to consider how the rise of Christianity transformed the world and ponder its role in one’s own life today.

When crucified by Roman soldiers, Jesus had twelve close disciples, another seventy missionaries, and a few hundred followers. Though a persecuted minority—the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, after all, were antithetical to everything the Roman Empire stood for—the steadfast example of early Christians attracted other followers until Emperor Constantine embraced this rising faith. Christianity survived the fall of the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages, and the Industrial Revolution to become the major world religion, now surpassing two billion followers. The history of our world offers no precedent to the appeal and exponential growth of Christianity.

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, medieval monasteries copied manuscripts, preserved libraries, organized schools, then invented colleges and universities. The Christian emphasis on education, aided by the printing press, laid the foundation for the Scientific Revolution. What would the discoveries of Newton, Faraday, Darwin and Pasteur and many others matter without an educational system to preserve and teach this knowledge?

Christianity ennobled humanity by teaching the equality of all, working to end slavery, emancipate women and resist the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Indeed, religion can be considered the first American institution, beginning with the Pilgrims and Puritans. The rise of democracy in America began with the Pilgrim’s Mayflower Compact, envisioned by the Puritan John Winthrop’s call for a shining “city on a hill” built on Bible teachings. Later, the religious revivals called Great Awakenings played a role in America’s greatest moments: The First Great Awakening can be seen as preparatory to the Revolutionary War that founded our democracy, and the Second Great Awakening a moral preparation for the Civil War that ended slavery while preserving the Union.

The First Amendment to our Constitution properly separated church and state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The founders knew the dangers of state involvement in religion. Yet our second president, John Adams, famously noted that the Constitution was written: “only for a moral and religious people and is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” The liberties the Constitution grants are dangerous without a people capable of moral self-restraint. It’s ironic that democracy separates church and state, yet each depends on the strength of the other.

We observe Easter differently now. Back when I was working my way through college, I worked Friday night and Saturday in a lady’s shoe store called Leeds. (The store, like many then, was closed on Sunday.) At that time, it was the custom for women of all ages to buy a new outfit for Easter, something special to wear to church on Sunday. Spring break was called Easter vacation then, and the shoe store would be packed because a spring outfit called for new shoes and perhaps a new purse. I still remember my exhaustion at the end of the week. I suggested to the Beautiful Wife this morning that she might like to get a new outfit for Easter, like in the old days. She perked up; it was one of my better ideas.

Celebrate Easter week, and attend your church’s events, especially if you haven’t been there for a while. Be part of the glory of Easter, and receive the grace offered by Christ. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email: [email protected].

 

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