A poor country, occupied by a foreign power, mostly poor people, apart from the privileged and rich few who seem to lord it on the population; and also the priests, Pharisees, Saducees and the like, who also enjoy their positions in authority.
Then there is this Man they call Jesus. Some say He comes from Bethlehem, others say Nazareth or Galillee. Some believe He is a teacher, others think He is a prophet come back to life. A few followers believe, or think they believe, He is the Son of God; because He says so.
We've all read the stories in the Gospels, or even seen films of various events in the movies or TV. But have we actually imagined being there at the time?
Just imagine ... you are there, a follower of Jesus. He may have called you to follow Him, or you may have just joined in ... following the crowd. Saying nothing, or very little. Listening to Him teach in the synagogues and the temple or out in the fields. Thinking and analysing what He is saying and trying to make some meaning or sense out of it. Words like "I am the bread of life", "I am the way", "I am the light", "I am the good shepherd", or even "I am the gate". What is all that about? And what does He mean by "Son of Man"?
What is more, as a follower and an observer, you have witnessed many of His miracles. Changing water to wine ... that was a good one. Or even better, feeding all that crowd who followed Him with just a few loaves and fishes. That was really astounding. How about walking on water? It was funny when Peter attempted to do the same and fell right in and nearly drowned. He always led with his mouth that one!
But what really got you thinking, is His power of healing. Many times you have witnessed Him healing people. The blind can see, the deaf can hear. The dumb talk and the lame walk. The lepers are made clean again and those possessed by the devil are freed from his grip on their lives. And every time He healed someone it was personal. He got close to the individual. Spoke to them calmly and healed them one at a time. Each one of them would remember that encounter for the rest of their lives.
You have even seen Him raise people from the dead. You were there when He raised Lazarus. Now this man had been dead for four days. No doubt about his death. Yet Jesus brought him back to life.
For three years you have followed Jesus and witnessed His actions up and down the land. You have formed an opinion about Him. Perhaps you believe He is Whom He says He is. Perhaps you're still to make your mind up.
Then come the terrible events.
Jesus is arrested and is to be put to death.
All His disciples have run away. Even big-mouth Peter who swore he would never leave Jesus has run away, and also denied knowing Him.
How about you? Yes you!
How brave are you? Will you argue with the Chief Priests and ask them to release Jesus? Will you fight with the soldiers who have arrested Him? You are one ... they are many. Well armed and well trained. Will you debate with Pilate and Herod and speak on behalf of Jesus?
This is for real. You are there. You have followed Jesus for three years. What will you do now?
Will you run away like the disciples? Will you deny knowing Him like Peter?
Do you blame them?
Let's think about this for a moment. When Jesus was arrested the crowd was angry. Almost feral. They shouted "Crucify Him!" time and again. Perhaps willingly, or perhaps they were coerced or threatened to do so. But they shouted it all the same. "Crucify Him!"
What do you think would have happened if a disciple, or you even, had stood up and said, "Leave Him alone. He is innocent".
The chances are you and the disciple would have been hung from the nearest tree. Or crucified with Him.
Now do you blame the disciples for running away?
Jesus knew they had to run away. And He forgives them for it.
They had to run away. They had to be saved. It is they who had to be there to witness His resurrection. It is they who had to remain alive in order to tell everyone that He has risen from death. It is they who had to start and build His Church on earth and to spread the Word of God.
They would have served no purpose by not running away and getting all killed in the process.
They had to be spared to continue the work which Jesus had started.
And so do we ... you and me ... we have to continue the work which Jesus has started.
This is the true meaning of Easter.
Christ is risen from the dead.
Our responsibility as Christians is to proclaim this truth.
FATHER FRANCIS MAPLE ENTERING CHURCH DURING EASTER VIGIL