Thursday, April 12, 2012

Easter and Death

"The purpose of life is to die before you die, and discover that there is no death." -Eckhart Tolle

I don't like Easter. We've made it the worst of the Christian holidays.

The loudest voices - the fundamentalists - tell us Easter is celebrating the day Jesus actually rose from the dead, later appearing in bodily form to lots of people before ascending into heaven. They might also tell us that we'll have everlasting life in heaven with Jesus. All of that is silly.

Our church treads a finer line. We don't say Jesus's resurrection isn't literally true (probably because that would alienate too many people), but we don't talk about it literally. Our minister this Easter gave a sermon talking about how the good news of Jesus isn't over, that we can find the risen Christ in our own lives, and that he lives as a challenge to live differently.

That's better, but good lord, it's not good enough! There's so, so much more!

Father Richard Rohr says all religions in their own way talk about "dying before you die." Jesus taught it over and over. For example: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain” (John 12:24). And: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 6:25).

What has to die? We've been narrowing it down for centuries. Our sons and daughters, for sacrifices; and then animals, for sacrifices; then just heretics, foreigners, the "others"; then any immoral or unfaithful beliefs, ideas or desires; and now, at least among progressives, exclusion and intolerance.

But Easter invites us to a radical new perspective. What has to die? Everything! Our roles, our identities, all of who we believe we are, personally, culturally, socially, even spiritually. It all has to go!

And what waits on the other side? The resurrection! The "mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:16). Our True Self, "hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3-4). Jesus's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was that "all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you" (John 17:21). He said "follow me," and he showed the way. Easter invites us to die to every identification, so that we may strip away our false self and reveal our oneness in the universal Christ consciousness that always already is.

Easter is an invitation, not merely to a belief or a way of living, but to a radical experience of death to the false self and of birth to an entirely new self. It's time we in the churches start saying so!

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Blogger nathanael lewis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:42 AM  
Blogger nathanael lewis said...

I think the hardest thing about Easter is that it is NOT an invitation - it's what happens after the invitation to follow Jesus, to seek God first, is accepted.

Just like it is difficult to talk to someone (like me) about calculus who can barely add, so is it difficult to talk about resurrection to congregations filled with Christmas and Easter only attenders.

It is not a coincidence that Resurrected Jesus shows himself only to his disciples, and not to the crowd or to the Pharisees. The crowd and Pharisees have not chosen to be prepared/shaped to understand the experience of resurrection. Even if Resurrected Jesus did show himself to them, they wouldn't know what to do...the Pharisees would probably just crucify him again (dang it all, the first time didn't take!).

For me, resurrection is the most difficult idea to understand. It is an ongoing struggle for comprehension.

If you're looking for a message/sermon different than the two types you mention in your post, I offer you this:

9:44 AM  
Blogger Grostic said...

Well, we've certainly made it into something that's not an invitation. It's Jesus as superhero, fundamentally different from anything we could ever be. I think that's the basic mistake of traditional Christianity.

A Jesus who isn't like us is a Jesus who can't really be lived or followed; we're stuck hoping he'll do something for us. There's truth in that, too (pointing towards the same thing: "Enlightenment is an accident" - i.e., you can't do anything to get there). But if we can't say more than that (e.g., - "but meditation makes you accident-prone" - i.e., there's still a path), we're stuck with hoping the superheros come and save us. I don't think that's true; it doesn't jive with my experience.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Nathanael said...

Agreed. Making Jesus a super-hero also makes him a liar. When he says, "Follow me," he means it. It's literal. He means, "Do what I do." And we see it happen with Peter walking on water, the disciples healing during their internships, and then into Acts, continuing with Jesus' ministry. In John 14:12, Jesus even says that his disciples will do as he does and more.

Even though Easter isn't an invitation, there is something about it that holds the imagination. Otherwise, why do the people show up? I mean, obligatory church attendance just doesn't have the pull it used to have. And yet, there they are...

Going back to the super-hero theme, time and again, the Israelites take the cultural majority story and retell it, turning certain components of a mainstream fable completely upside down. Which is ingenious and typical (hip-hop for instance, comes from the same place). But I so wish they hadn't done that with Jesus' birth. The nativity narrative has messed up so many things about our initial, at-a-glance understanding of Jesus, that even deeper study doesn't always undo those first impressions of Jesus: Genetic Son of God.

A little ironic, isn't it, that the two most attended worship services every year (Easter and Christmas) are probably also the most misunderstood and therefore distorted perspectives of Christianity.

I'm almost tempted to declare that the Church could do more teaching of the good news by keeping the doors locked on those two Sundays.

...or simply left open in the breeze with just some loin cloth nicely folded and placed on the front pew...

11:46 PM  
Blogger Grostic said...


My thought this year: what if a church skipped Easter, and instead held the Good Friday service that day (unannounced)?

I think Good Friday has incredible power all by itself (see here), and Easter is pretty much meaningless without it (i.e., all you're left with is the superhero theme). So what if everyone showed up for Easter, and got Good Friday instead? I mean, besides that everyone would be pissed off and nobody would ever come back?

10:19 AM  

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