Last week was Easter, beginning with Palm Sunday, when everyone cheered Jesus as the “King of the Jews”, as people called him; he was riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a stylish horse, but as an ordinary man, close to men and God in all ways. Yet, events turned hostile quickly. Already by Thursday, called Maundy Thursday in the Bible, when Jesus held his last supper, he knew that his time on earth would be ending and he told his twelve disciples that, too. It was more symbolic that one of them, Judas Iscariot, betrayed him, and identified him so the soldiers of the Roman occupiers of the land of the Jews, or Palestine, could arrest him, charging him with inciting to unrest and leading a freedom movement, although he said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Jesus was a prophet, God’s messenger, he was Godly. Some people therefore said about him that he is the Son of God. He never said that about himself.

On Good Friday, or Long Friday, as it more correctly is termed in my native Norwegian language, Jesus was tried and sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. He said he didn’t find any wrongs with Jesus and he symbolically washed his hands. Yet, he asked the Jewish public what they thought, and they shouted “crucify”, the cruel form of execution used that time.

On Easter Sunday, Jesus is said to have risen from the dead. The angel said to the women who came to the grave to anoint Jesus’ body in the early morning hours: “He is not here; he is risen; just as he said.” (Matthew 28:6) The women mentioned in the story were from Galilee, his home area, Mary Magdalena and Mary of Jacob, and also Mary Salome and Joanna. How many they were is not clear. They found the tomb empty and hurried to town to tell ‘the good news’. Some believed, but many were sceptical. Then, stories began to be circulated about people who had seen Jesus and more people came to believe.

In the Muslim tradition, Jesus was not crucified and killed, but somebody else was killed; and some would say that he was crucified but had not died. Both Christians and Muslims believe in Jesus’ divine conception and in his ascension to heaven, which according to the Bible took place 40 days after Easter Sunday: “After he had said this, he was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9)

I believe that most of the specific stories in the Bible and the dogma, should not be taken literally but figuratively, and be understood as a way of narrating events convincingly, making them concrete and dramatic, so that people would believe them. Yet, what is always important with the Biblical stories, and those in the Koran, are the messages behind the stories. In our time, as in the past, we have become fixated on the concrete aspects of the stories, the way they were narrated, told, written down and kept for future generations and the mankind. If believers only believe in the dogma as such, but not the wider implications of them, we don’t believe much. It is the symbolism in the stories, the change and action that then follow in our worldly lives, and in our faith, that is important.

As for the Easter drama, the way it has been narrated, told and written down, we have to understand it in a much broader and more philosophical way than what is common – without making it becoming smaller, but more important and more relevant at any given time. I would say that the Easter drama, as well as the other stories in the Bible, will then be more important foundations for the Koran, and the words of the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and also for the real faith of Christians.

The real and lasting message of the Easter drama, whether it was Jesus who was actually crucified and killed, is not the important part of the story. For that matter, whether Jesus’ messages actually originate from one person, or several persons, can also be discussed – unorthodox and strange as it may seem to most people. Jesus was working in a group with twelve disciples, yet it is more likely that his ‘movement’ was established by a much larger group.

In sum, the messages in the Easter drama, to Christians, but also to Muslims, and to all people, are the new understandings of God and the world: Love your neighbour as you love God. God is a merciful God of love. These are the political, social and theological dimensions, the New Covenant of the Bible’s New Testament.

This year’s sermon at Coliseum in Rome, led by Pope Francis on Good Friday evening, the Via Dolorosa walk, the Way of the Cross, up the Golgata Hill to the place of crucifixion of the condemned and suffering Jesus, was written by an 80-year old Italian missionary, Sister Eugenia, who has worked in East Africa for 24 years and after that, for 20 years among prostitutes and homeless women in Rome. The main message in her sermon was that Jesus’ suffering was not only taking place some 2000 years ago; it must be realized in our world today; we must show mercy and act on the world’s injustice. If we see only the suffering of Jesus long ago, but not the suffering of fellow human beings today, we are not true believers. It is Jesus’ messages that have arisen and live forever. Can you and I see that and interpret the Easter drama that way?

Sister Eugenia drew attention to the homeless in Rome and many issues in our time, including the suffering of refugees, migrants and others who flee poverty, dictatorship, wars, slavery and exploitation. We must open our hearts to the immigrants in Europe. We must realise that many people in our midst are crucified, are suffering and marginalized, and we must show mercy, forgiveness and compassion. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the will of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

And then, I had thought I was unorthodox in my interpretation of the Easter drama and message, as I described it above, only to find that the Catholic Sister went further. Indeed a good teacher! Besides, maybe there were many women behind the disciples, not mentioned by the men whose the stories were included in the holy book? And maybe we need more women to preach to us, the way Sister Eugenia did in Rome this year? Perhaps women better than many men can remind us of God’s mercy, of our duty always to remember those who need help, the last, the lowest and the least. The essence of faith is our trust in a merciful God and our concern for all fellow human beings on our life’s journey: “As I have loved you, you must love one another.” (John 13:34)