As Baha’is, we believe that the foundation of all the divine religions is one. Ever so often, we’ll be putting up posts for our ‘Changeless Faith Series’, in which we look closer at some of the similarities between the divine religions, in an attempt to more fully understand what Baha’u’llah meant when he said “This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”.
This year, the Christian celebration of Easter coincides with Ridvan. What does Easter have to do with Ridvan, you might ask. Well, not very much, it would seem, and at first glance the two seem fairly unrelated. But over the past few days, I’ve found myself reading up about the Baha’i understanding of the events which Christians celebrate at Easter and I realised that once you remove the customs and traditions which have come to become synonymous with Easter, the real significance of Easter is very closely linked to the significance of Ridvan.
For Christians, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus three days after His crucifixion on Good Friday. Growing up as a Christian, I remember being read stories from the Bible which speak volumes of the profound grief and loss that the disciples of Jesus felt following His crucifixion. One of my favourite stories is about Mary Magdalene, who stood outside the empty tomb of Jesus, weeping.
11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”
14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher).
17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her.1
As Baha’is, we understand the story of the resurrection to be a spiritual allegory rather than a literal physical resurrection. ‘Abdu’l- Baha explains the meaning of the biblical story in Some Answered Questions:
… the meaning of Christ’s resurrection is as follows: the disciples were troubled and agitated after the martyrdom of Christ. The Reality of Christ, which signifies His teachings, His bounties, His perfections, and His spiritual power, was hidden and concealed for two or three days after His martyrdom, and was not resplendent and manifest. No, rather it was lost; for the believers were few in number and were troubled and agitated. The Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body; and, when after three days the disciples became assured and steadfast, and began to serve the Cause of Christ, and resolved to spread the divine teachings, putting His counsels into practice, and arising to serve him,… His religion found life, His teachings and admonitions became evident and visible. In other words, the Cause of Christ was like a lifeless body, until the life and bounty of the Holy Spirit surrounded it.2
It isn’t too hard to imagine the grief that early followers of each of the Manifestations of God must have felt when they witnessed the persecution inflicted upon these Divine Messengers. In each Dispensation, we read stories of how these followers have felt at a loss when separated from the Manifestation, unsure of how to proceed. This was no different in the time of Baha’u’llah.
Following the martyrdom of the Bab and the persecution levelled against the Babi community, the exile of Baha’u’llah – who had come to be regarded by the Babis as the leader of their community – deeply saddened and troubled the Babis. Like the disciples of Jesus following the crucifixion, they must have perceived the events unfolding as a fatal blow to the Cause and were left unsure where to turn.
However in the garden of Ridvan – as was the case three days after the crucifixion of Jesus – the grief that the Babis felt at having to bid farewell to Baha’u’llah was unexpectedly transformed into unimaginable happiness as Baha’u’llah declared that He was Him whom God shall make manifest.
Easter, like Ridvan, is thus a celebration of the triumph of the divine Cause – where grief is transformed into joy and persecution into victory. As we continue to celebrate the 12 days of Ridvan, all of us at Baha’i Blog would like to wish our Christian friends a Happy Easter!