Adapted from Jesus, The Carpenter's Son (Boston: Beacon Press, 1945).
Jesus was a great teacher long, long ago who preached God's love. Jesus taught that we should care for the poor and forgive people who hurt us. In his lifetime, Jesus influenced many people to love one another as they loved God. Twelve of those people were called the disciples of Jesus. They traveled with Jesus and listened to him preach day after day.
In Jesus' time, the Roman leaders and the Jewish leaders did not like him. They were afraid he would lead a rebellion and upset the way things were. As Jesus became more popular, the leaders planned to kill him. One of Jesus' disciples, named Judas, betrayed Jesus and helped the leaders with their plan.
The night before Jesus died, he was celebrating the Jewish holiday of Passover. He celebrated at a Seder with the twelve disciples. The next day, Jesus was arrested, and then he was killed.
What happened after Jesus died began the religion we know as Christianity. Many Christians believe that after Jesus was killed, he rose from the dead and went to heaven.
Many Unitarian Universalists see this story differently. Many years ago, a religious educator named Sophia Fahs, explains in a UU way what happened after Jesus died. Here is how Reverend Fahs told it:
The people who followed Jesus were brokenhearted after he died. They struggled to understand why God had allowed their teacher to be killed. Surely someone so connected to God, so overflowing in goodness, did not deserve the punishment of a criminal or rebel. As these men and women gathered day after day in each other's homes, they began to recall the wonderful experiences they had had with Jesus. They told one another of times when Jesus was wise, and times when Jesus was kind. The very tone of Jesus' voice and the look on his face would come back to them so vividly that it seemed, sometimes, as though Jesus were again right there with them.
Some of the people had dreams in which Jesus seemed so real that the dreamers could not tell whether they had been asleep or awake when they saw him. Some declared positively that they had seen Jesus again. He had talked with them! The rumor spread that Jesus had actually come out of his coffin, that two of his disciples had seen him, and that several of the women had talked with him; they would see him only for a few moments, and then he would mysteriously disappear again.
Finally, several of them dreamed they saw Jesus rise up from the earth—higher and higher—until he disappeared entirely. They believed he had gone to heaven to be with God. And after that, their dreams of seeing him and talking with him stopped.
People who had these experiences believed that Jesus was different from other people. Some believed that Jesus was so holy and great that he would come back to earth and save the world. That is one reason Christians call Jesus "the Savior."
The years passed by. The people who knew Jesus died. Their children and their children's children also died. But Jesus did not come back. It has been over two thousand years and Jesus has still not come back. There are those who still hope he will come back to life again.
Others, including Unitarian Universalists, believe that this Jesus will never again live on earth. His body is not coming back. But, his spirit never needs to die. His spirit is in his words and deeds which still give us wisdom today. For example, when he was alive, Jesus taught The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, where he said that people who are poor, hurt, and struggling are loved by God and therefore, we must love them, too.
When someone's physical body dies, the people around them who loved and valued them will keep their memory alive—just like the followers of Jesus have remembered his teachings and his spirit, long after his death.