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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The most important story ever told

To download a podcast of my Easter message, click here.

The story of the Resurrection is probably the most important story the world could hear, whether or not you are a Christian, regardless of whether or not you are a person of faith.

But first some trivia: the word "Easter" is derived from and Old English/Germanic word, "Eastre".  This was the word for the direction East, and it was also the name of a Germanic pagan goddess of spring and fertility.

In the early centuries of Christianity, many converts were from pagan religions, who brought with them much of their imagery and theology.  This was in turn incorporated and adopted by Christianity, as this imagery and theology spoke equally profoundly to members of the nascent group as they did to pagan converts.

Eastre was represented by eggs and rabbits, images which we still retain today in the form of the Easter Bunny and Easter eggs.  Where the chocolate comes from is beyond me, so if someone knows, please tell me.  Eggs are immobile and seemingly lifeless, but at some point, life comes out of them.  Perfect metaphor for a tomb.

Rabbits are known for their prolific feats of reproduction, so much so that ancient peoples thought they were hermaphroditic.  All they knew was that a rabbit disappeared down a hole in the ground (like a tomb) and soon, a bunch of little rabbits burst forth.

These poignant symbols of life, fruition and fertility delighted early Christians, as they spoke so loudly to the concept of life coming from seeming death, of fertility coming from seeming barrenness.

But this is not why the Easter story is so important.

In a sense, the Resurrection has much less to do with Jesus, and much more to do with us, both as individuals and as a species.

Let me put it this way: either you believe in the Resurrection or you don't.  Nothing I can say will convince you either way.  I leave it up to your own discretion whether you choose to believe or disbelieve it.

But the Resurrection is not JUST about Jesus, not just about an event which may or may not have happened some 2000 years ago.

I want to sidestep the superficial question of the actual event itself to demonstrate that the Resurrection teaches us lessons which are more urgent than ever for us to absorb, regardless of our faith disposition (or lack thereof, as the case may be).

First of all, let's look at the species issues.  The story of the Crucifixion and Resurrection is a story of systemic injustice.  Pilate and the Romans, the Pharisees, Annas, and Caiaphas are all examples of officialdom run amok.  They are examples of political, religious and social elitism at their worst.  They are examples of fear, anger, hatred, discrimination, bigotry, greed, selfishness and cowardice, not only on a personal level, but also on a systemic level.

I would love to say that society has learned its lesson, but I would be at great pains to name a decade or even a year since Christ's time (or before, for that matter) which was not punctuated by dictatorships or despotism somewhere in the world.  I cannot name a period in history which was not punctuated by an elite living off the sweat of the masses.

But Christ was not just a man.  He was (or has become in the minds of the faithful) a paragon of the best that humanity has to offer, the best of what God represents: patience, charity, forgiveness, mercy, justice, peace, love.

What the Resurrection tells us as a species is that despite the injustice of "the system", despite the injustice of elitism, the virtues that Christ represented cannot die.  There is something in the human spirit which strives for these values, and as long as we strive for them, good will conquer.

This lesson is all the more important as we face global warming, overpopulation, energy crises and diminishing resources, all of which can be attributed either directly or indirectly to greed, consumerism and short-sighted self-interest.  We need to be reminded that those virtues exist, and if we want to leave our planet in manageable condition for our progeny, we would be best to put our vices aside and adopt  those virtues instead.

On a more personal level, however, the Resurrection can touch us individually as well.

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in the world can relate to going through hard times.  Everyone of us can relate to feeling that we are dwelling in darkness.  Every single human being has felt utter helplessness and hopelessness at some point.  If you have not, place your index and middle fingers to the hollow of your throat and check for a pulse.

Ever had depression?  Mental illness?  Physical illness?  Money problems?  The death of someone near to you?  Divorce?  Loss of a job?

Then you can relate to feeling like you are trapped in the dank darkness of a tomb.

The question is not whether Jesus was dead and came back to life.  The question is how can we relate to dwelling in darkness, coping with death (literally or figuratively), being trapped by a stone in our own lives?

Pretty easily, I expect.

Maybe we can also relate to that stone rolling away.  Maybe we can relate to that which is oppressing us being lifted.  Maybe we can relate to standing in the light of morning, breathing the fresh air of hope when we never thought we would or could ever again.

Maybe we can relate to coming back to life ourselves.

This Easter, many people are likely still dwelling in darkness, and the hope that the Resurrection represents is as ludicrous and amorphous as the concept of a man coming back from the dead.

In which case, I would urge you to locate the stone that is standing in your way.  Locate and identify it, whether that means seeking a doctor or therapist, whether it means asking friends and family for help.

Roll away your stone and live again.

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