Three things caught my attention in the past two weeks: Thinking about Easter, a song I heard on the radio, and a play I saw at Alberta Theatre Projects called Constellations.
In my last post I mentioned that the ritual of observing the church year has been important for me in directing my thinking about faith and life issues. This year is no different. Lent has been an intentional reflection time for me, and Easter has always been a challenge. The Christian Church focuses on Easter as being the defining moment for God at work in history and in our lives. While I agree with this I have always had trouble with the way the church interprets this event. Jesus has always been very important in my life and I know him through prayer and scripture. The word of God still speaks to me after all these years, but I have never been able to figure out this teaching about dying for our sins. I know the theology, and can see that the system works when it includes heaven and hell, judgement day and our human nature being corrupted so badly that we need a saviour to help us. But this system no longer describes the real world for me and many others. The God who sacrifices his son so we/I might have eternal life does not fit for me with the love of God I know. It fits for me if I see the Easter event as a life pattern of letting go so new life can emerge (growing up). I have seen this life, death and new life cycle in my life many times.
I spent 53 years of ministry trying to understand Easter and preach it with integrity. I think that Jesus was modeling faithfulness as making life choices which lead to human transformation. To me it works as a metaphor for the way love works in transforming our lives, and it works in the scientific world if we change the word resurrection to emergence (See Nov.3 blog). But as a real physical event that changes history it seems limiting and inconsistent with my idea of the way a loving God is acting in the world today. Having lost the physical constructs of heaven and hell, for me the meaning of Easter is more about the way I live, the choices I make right now.
Constellations, the play I saw, was about multiverses in which people made different choices in different universes which resulted in different outcomes in each universe. I can’t wrap my head around the reality of multiverses but I can see a multitude of possible futures being available, depending on my/our choices. I do believe the collective impact of our personal decisions in activating a potential future will determine the future of the human race.
Then I heard a song on the radio a song called “Gloria”, by Patti Smith. The first line got my attention: “Jesus may have died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” I came home and looked up this song and was not impressed by the entire song, but the first line really spoke to me. In an interview in the 1990’s Patti said this about the song, “People constantly came up to me and said ‘You’re an atheist, you don’t believe in Jesus,’ and I said ‘Obviously I believe in him’… I’m saying that, y’know, that the concept of Jesus, I believe in. I just wanted the freedom. I wanted to be free of him. I was 20 years old when I wrote that, and it was sort my youthful manifesto. In other words I didn’t want to be good, y’know, but I didn’t want him to have to worry about me, or I didn’t want him taking responsibility for my wrongdoings, or my youthful explorations. I wanted to be free. So it’s really a statement about freedom.”
The old-time religion seems to make everything about right and wrong, black and white, good and bad and getting into heaven. But faith is really about relationships and about freedom to make choices and live our lives. In this Easter season I find myself thinking about the word “resurrection”. The word indicates to me that something/someone is returning to the way it/one was. But Jesus tells the women not to touch him because he has not fully realized his new self. Jesus is not resurrected as much as he has transformed. This is an important difference for me. If Jesus is the model, then I am not looking for resurrection, but for transformation. If you look up the definitions of the two words you will see what I am getting at.
For me Easter is an affirmation of faith in the future, faith that human nature can become more loving and more responsible as we mature, faith that there is an Evolutionary Impulse (God) present and acting with us for the fullness of life (salvation). Easter is not (only) about personal salvation but about the future of the world. We need a community of faith to become a force for justice and good news. It is a tough, selfish and violent world we live in but there are pockets of faith and Easter celebrates the promise and hope that will keep us faithful to the task of loving one another. That, in itself, is its own reward. This is where the purpose of life emerges and is the only reward I need.
Easter is indeed a powerful spiritual celebration that requires a unifying faith for the promise of eternal life to become a present reality.