Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter


The word Easter comes from the name of a Teutonic goddess of spring, worshipped at the vernal equinox, which coincides with Passover, which precipitates all the events of Holy Week. In Old English, the name is eastre; the word’s Sanskrit root, usra, means dawn, i.e., where the sun rises, thus our word east.

Jesus’ death disheartened, devastated, and almost destroyed the group of disciples who had committed to following Jesus. On the day following the Sabbath (i.e., our Sunday), the gospels portray the disciples as preparing to return to their individual homes, presumably to attempt to pick up the threads of lives tattered by their years of travelling around Palestine with Jesus.

Somehow, in a way that I do not pretend to understand, the presence of God, which they had experienced so strongly in and through Jesus, again became real to them. This happened in a manner that they associated with Jesus, causing them to declare, He lives! (For anyone interested in a discussion of the absurdity of physical resurrection, cf. Ethical Musings: Holy Week thoughts on crucifixion and resurrection and Resurrection.)

One Christian tradition has it that Mary Magdalene visited the Emperor Tiberias (14-37 AD) in Rome and proclaimed Christ's resurrection to him. According to tradition, she took him an egg as a symbol of the resurrection, a symbol of new life with the words: "Christ is risen!" She told Tiberias that, in his Province of Judea, Jesus the Galilean, a holy man, a maker of miracles, powerful before God and all humanity, was executed on the instigation of the Jewish High-Priests and the sentence affirmed by the procurator Pontius Pilate.

Tiberias responded that no one could rise from the dead, any more than the egg she had brought could turn red. The egg turned red immediately, as testimony to what Mary was preaching.

Although romantics may like hearing the story of Mary’s visit to Tiberias and parents may use the story to teach young children the reason for Easter egg hunts, the tradition is obviously a fabrication, e.g., eggs do not turn color as evidence of the truth of the resurrection (or any other proposition!).

Yet, for almost two thousand years, people have continued to experience the presence of the ultimately real in the Christian myth and community. If Jesus manifesting God's great love were simply another fabricated story, then the story would lack power, people would not experience transformation as they heard, died to self, and lived into a reality greater than self.

Sadly, those Christians who insist on understanding the gospels as factual accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection unintentionally eviscerate the myth of its power for many in the twenty-first century. The power of the myth is the power of art, or metaphor, to point to a reality beyond itself. We experience the power of the myth when we allow the story to become a window through which we can stand in the light of God's love, a light that illuminates, heals, and gives life abundant to us.

The sun has risen; the light shines; Happy Easter!

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