Today is Easter Sunday. All over the world Christians are proclaiming the miracle of the resurrection of Christ. Many celebrate what they believe was a physical resurrection, the ultimate proof that Jesus was indeed the son of God sent to save us from our sins. By his death on the cross as a living sacrifice for the sins of the world, he redeemed all of us to new life. For Christians the world over, today is truly a celebration of that good news.
Easter Invites Us to Participate in the Resurrection and Transformation Into New Life
For many Christians, the meaning of this day does not stop there, however. The Easter story for many is also an invitation for us to participate in that transformation, that resurrection into new form and new life. In the story of Passover, the commemoration of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt is not retold every year simply so that it’s not forgotten. It’s retold so that it may be relived, and so that it may play a real and profound part in our own spiritual journeys of transformation and awakening. The same is true for the message and experience of Easter.
For many of us, the story of sin and sacrifice may not ring true. While many of us may have heard, and believed, the traditional narrative in years past, today our spiritual truth is not that we were born sinful, or that Jesus died to save us. We know that the story of Jesus has much to teach us, but we must pull out different lessons from this powerful story.
One of my favorite authors is former Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who has written extensively on the crucifixion and resurrection. Moving beyond the events of Easter as historical narrative, he has sought to find deeper meaning in the Easter experience. As a student of the Bible, he writes that the Easter narratives as written in the gospels do not appear to be historical at all, and perhaps we do well not to take them as such. The stories appear intended to convey the magnitude of the events depicted, and they use outsize, miraculous descriptions to do that.
For example, in telling the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, the gospels tell us that at the time of his death darkness covered the earth and earthquakes erupted throughout the land. The curtain in the temple was split from top to bottom, the graves of the dead were opened and bodies of saints rose up and walked the streets of Jerusalem. These momentous events very likely were not intended as historical fact, but as allegorical devices to tell the reader to pay attention, something truly amazing and important had just happened.
The same is true with the biblical stories of the resurrection. Bishop Spong points out that the story of the risen Jesus changes over time, indeed becoming increasingly embellished as the gospels proceeded. Paul’s writings, completed before any of the gospels, contain no story of any physical resurrection. Yet, by the time we get to John, the last Gospel written 95 -100 years after the event, 2 angels are present in the empty tomb, Jesus is physically reembodied, walks, and can be touched. There is good reason to think these events are dramatized, and magnified, over time.
Even if we don’t accept these events as literal, does this story of trial, pain, death, and resurrection have any meaning for us? It does. Through this story we experience again that new life, transformed life, arises out of loss and that death is never the last word. On Easter, through this story, we can relive the power and truth of resurrection and transformation and carry away its meaning for our own lives.
Christian mystic and teacher Richard Rohr teaches that we miss the meaning of resurrection if we limit it to one man, one miracle. He wrote that in the resurrection story, “Jesus is revealing the miracle, and naming the miracle, that is available all the time.” This miracle is new life, transformed life of the spirit, for those who are willing to open up into that connection with spirit.
Jesus is not participating in a miracle meant only for him. He is making a statement about how reality works for all of us. Jesus said the kingdom of God is within us; death and resurrection, ending and transformation are how we reach it.
Resurrection is a fact of our existence always available to us. This story of Jesus, brought to new life by the action of spirit, tells us a truth about ourselves and our own journey.
An Ending and From It A Beginning
A few weeks ago we explored Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey and so the archetype of an ending, a journey, and a beginning are familiar to us. It’s the cycle of creation, the truth of the relationships that bind us to each other and to all creation. The river flows onward, moving, renewing.
You will not find an ending that does not contain within it the seeds of a new beginning. Indeed, we will never reach that new beginning without the death that precedes it.
Author Craig D. Lounsbrough wrote “Maybe I don’t have enough beginnings in my life because I fought against the endings that were about to birth those beginnings.”
We have to be aware of the endings we fight that might bring us wonderful new beginnings, from death to new life. We must be always aware of the possibility of renewal.
Megan McKenna, the prolific and profound Catholic writer, saw it this way when she was leading a Bible study. She shares the following vignette in her book Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible.
Once in a parish mission when I was studying this scripture (Luke 7: 11-17) [about Jesus raising a young man from the dead] with a large group, someone called out harshly, ‘Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?’ I had been saying that life happens when we are interrupted, and that some of the most powerful acts of resurrection happen to the least likely people; that we are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering. And then this challenge from the back of the church.
My response was ‘Yes.’ I went on to say, ‘Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.’
The Easter Story: Resurrection Is the Power of Spirit to Make All Things New
Renewal, rebirth, change, new hope. Resurrection is the story of the growth and healing that happens through the action of Spirit, of God, in our lives.
Resurrection moments are those in which we see new and different life arising from a place we formerly saw only loss, pain, or death. Look at the Easter story – it is a wonderful metaphor for how this process works.
Good Friday gave us the death of Jesus – endings, defeats, failures. We know that the crucifixion, on a metaphysical level, is a death we deal ourselves – the limitations we impose, the opportunities we abandon, the negative stories we constantly tell ourselves about ourselves. Sometimes life hands us those crucifixion moments – a physical death, divorce, job loss, financial reversals. Something that looks like the end, at that moment.
We then have a time of quiet on Saturday, called Holy Saturday. It’s a time of grieving, adjustment, questioning, inaction. It’s the transition time from the ending to the new beginning. From a metaphysical perspective the tomb is not a place of death, but a place of rest and higher consciousness – preparation for transformation into a greater understanding of our oneness with God.
Then, Easter Sunday. A time of rebirth; a release of limitations, beliefs, and assumptions that our false self, our ego self, is all there is. As did Jesus, we step out renewed. And how is this rebirth made possible? By rolling away the metaphorical stone – our limiting beliefs about ourselves and our ability to shine as the God presence that we are.
Easter Is Not Limited to Just One Day
Author Marchel Alverson writes that the Easter message – living in an awareness of the Christ potential – should not be limited to one day. He teaches us that, “The transformational power that is inside all of us is cause for a lifetime of celebrations. Easter is not simply a play to be acted out; it is, in essence an experience that must be lived every day.”
All things are made new when we step into our own God presence, or as it’s sometimes called, our own Christ consciousness.
What are some practices that help us make that connection, help us realize that resurrection is a reality in our lives?
Be aware and conscious of what is going on now. That sounds simple, but how often do we wake up and realize the last half hour is a complete blank. Give your full attention to whatever you are doing, and you’ll recognize the constant renewal of life all around you. Living in the present moment, the only time when God brings forth new life, is a way of affirming your belief in resurrection.
- Walk the path of beauty and notice the spiritual radiance in people, places, and growing things. We are surrounded by so much beauty and we often miss it.
- Practice forgiveness, releasing resentments and leaving grievances behind. How much of our energy do they consume, without our even knowing it?
- Look to the future with hope, knowing that your good is unfolding. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
- Exercise compassion. Whenever you open your heart, mind, and soul to the pain of the world, you help bring suffering beings back into the land of the living.
- Connect with others in real and meaningful ways. These days we are so connected but many are so alone. We are created to live in community, and when we are removed from that connection we undergo the adult equivalent of failure to thrive.
Resurrection Moments Are the Work of Co-Creation – Human and Divine
Our lives are not made new because we work harder, get up earlier and do it better. It’s not a question of our effort – that’s us trying to push the river. Awakening to new life may be the result of trying less, letting God be God in us. Our own God presence is already within, waiting to renew us, lift us into new life.
Easter fundamentally is a season of hope. Death does not win, pain and loss are never the final words to the story. Through our own God-presence within and as us, from which we are never separated, we are also renewed and resurrected.
This blog is based on Rev. Melanie’s talk on April 16, 2017.
You can listen to the entire talk on our website or on YouTube at our One World Spiritual Center channel.
Blog by Rev. Melanie Eyre
Spiritual Leader, One World Spiritual Center