The Cross and the Pitcher
The Kumbh Mela is the largest gathering on earth. During its last celebration in 2013, it was conservatively estimated that around ten million people would gather in the city of Allahabad in Northern India. Some even quoted a seemingly exaggerated figure of one hundred million pilgrims to this religious gathering! The Kumbh Mela (etymologically, "pitcher fair") takes place every four years in Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik by rotation. In 2013, the festival was called the Maha (meaning "Super") Kumbh Mela, which happens only once every 144 years. It is estimated that this Kumbh cost around 210 million dollars (US), but thankfully also generated approximately ten times that amount, as calculated by India's Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Even people from far-flung places came to make this event a success. Andrew Turner from Australia along with his wife and children built an 18 by 6 feet boat to ferry devotees from one side of the river to the other—free of charge. "I am living a dream at the moment," he said. "When I heard that this Kumbh was happening after 144 years, I thought, I will never get a second chance.... I joined the locals and landed in Prayag and walked several kilometers with devotees... The zealous faith snapped my ties with logic and reason. It was mesmerizing."
Hindu tradition says that there was a war between the gods and the demons over divine nectar, and in the process, four drops of nectar fell from the pitcher. These fell on four different locations, which overlap the cities where the Kumbh is held. One of those drops fell at Haridwar where the river Ganges flows, while another fell at the Sangam. The Sangam is the confluence of three rivers—the Ganga, Yamuna, and the mythological river Saraswati in Prayag. The other two drops fell at Kshipra in Ujjain and Godawari in Nasik. A dip in these rivers on auspicious dates during the Kumbh is said to rid pilgrims of their sins.
The reality of sin is clearly expressed in the Christian Bible. The universality of sin has also been declared in Romans as "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Anyone who reads the newspaper and honestly reflects on it is hard-pressed to deny the reality and universality of sin. Through the ages, humans have tried to rid themselves of sin and its consequences. Religious rituals, idols, journeys, and sacrifices have all tried to assuage and comfort the sinner's heart, but have been found wanting.
Robert Lowry wrestles with this question in the lyrics of a hymn and arrives at a significantly different answer:
What can wash away my sins,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh precious is the flow,
that makes me white as snow,
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
In the Christian religion, grace that is made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus is the very fount which offers release from the burden of sin and restores our relationship with God. And thankfully, we do not need to snap our ties to logic and reason, but rather embrace an honest and rational examination of a real person. This would lead us to the empty grave of Jesus—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Death no longer has a hold on him and this victory he extends to a fellow humanity: O Death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead offers freedom not only from the sting of death but also from bondage to sin and our many attempts to assuage it—this, not at any cost to us or anyone else, for God has freely offered the gift. Thus, we can confess Jesus as Lord anytime, anywhere, and we will be saved! It makes one gasp in wonder at the overarching simplicity and compelling elegance of this very good news.
Cyril Georgeson is a member of the speaking team with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Mumbai, India.