Easter Sunday morning in Buddhist Thailand, April 24, 2011.
Looking over the vast city of high-rises, smog and 24/7 traffic, I wondered what the death and resurrection of the Lord could possibly mean to these millions of people, mostly Buddhist.
For most Buddhists in Thailand or Muslims in Indonesia or Hindus in India or non-believers “down-under”, Jesus’ death and resurrection probably means little or nothing.
Yet, I reflected, overlooking sprawling Bangkok, it also means everything – even if unconsciously.
Jesus incarnated a different view of reality. He teaches that I am called to empty myself of my ego so that everyone is my sister and brother – and I am called to be especially fond of my enemies and people that the rest of the world disregards… those hidden from the main-stream. Self-emptying so that I call nobody my enemy, and there are no strangers.
It’s a call to self-emptying by love so that we are filled with God who is Love.
Jesus’ radical view of the world, the Kingdom he proclaimed, was so different that he challenged the established order. “Naturally” (the law of the cross), he was confronted by the powers-that-be.
He could have run from Gethsemane. “Not my will, but Yours.” He could have fought. “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword”. He was prepared to suffer and die for his vision of the new world where we are all sisters and brothers …whatever the consequences. He would not run away. He would not fight violently. He would empty himself completely until the end.
And so his radical call to the emptying of self by love of everyone, especially the enemy and the stranger who is different, in order to be filled with the God of Love, ended with his ugly death on Golgotha. His belief that the vacuum created by self-emptying would be filled to overflowing by the God of Love bore its fruit in the empty tomb of Easter Sunday.
We Christians, by our Baptism, share in this life of Christ. We commit ourselves to his vision of the Kingdom – self-emptying by love of all people as one family whatever the consequences of this commitment – and we share in the life and death of Christ. We also share in the new life of Easter, God’s love overtaking us.
In these non-Christian lands in Asia we are called to be signs of the life of Christ individually and in our tiny Christian communities. We are small and insignificant here. But we are here. The life and death and resurrection of Christ “saves” these lands where Christ is rarely explicitly known and we quietly witness to this truth.
Whether I am a Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, or a non-believer, I still need to follow the pattern of self-emptying by love-of-everyone, especially the poor and abandoned, to be filled with Love. I will understand it and express it differently if I am a Buddhist. But the essential truth that Christ taught and lived remains the same. Christians embrace it consciously. But everyone, whether in over-crowded Bangkok or Jakarta or Mumbay, is called to this new life by following this pattern taught and lived by Christ in his life, death and resurrection.
So, in even in Asia, where Christians are a tiny and often disregarded minority, we can say that Jesus, by his teaching and life-giving death and resurrection, saves all people – Christians by participation in Baptism; all people, by living his pattern. So “the world” is saved.
Our little Marist community in Buddhist Ranong is called to be a silent sign of the truth of Jesus’ teaching and the significance of his death and resurrection.
The busy, bustling crowds of Bangkok – and many other cities – go about their business unaware of Easter on this Sunday morning. We Christians celebrate Easter as best we can. All of us, Christian and Buddhist alike, Hindu or Muslim, share in the new life of God’s love this Easter. By his death and resurrection Jesus has saved all of us. Christians participate in God’s saving grace this Easter more or less consciously. But everyone is called, in his or her own way, to the walk the same path.