Thinking About Easter for the 53rd Time

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.

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6 Responses to Thinking About Easter for the 53rd Time

  1. Vince McGrath says:

    Hi John et al,

    Like you I have never been able to see that the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection was to free me and others from sin. I have never had that experience I see in “born again” Christians of feeling the freedom of sins forgiven. I have felt the freedom of breaking loose of emotional constraints and debilitating beliefs. I see Jesus as Savior…saving me from all the restraints that get in the way of me living my life to its fullness.

    • jegrif says:

      Hi Vince, I think we both see Jesus as saviour in the role of giving us more freedom to live what Jesus called, “the fullness of life”. The ego understand “fullness of life” in a narrow, selfish way. When we are in living in the Spirit we understand “fullness” in a much more expansive, inclusive way. It is in loving the enemy that we learn more about life; it is in giving that we receive; it is in trusting that we find true love (being vulnerable that we are strong). And for me the Easter moment is only possible when I have the freedom (energy) to choose to be vulnerable having no certainty of the outcome; only hope and faith to guide me.

  2. Dave Myers (Winnipeg), an old friend says:

    I want to share with you a poem I was asked to read today at our Good Friday service – I believe it reflects your feelings. It was written by John of the Cross, a Spanish 16th century mystic who was in prison in a cell 15 feet by 6 feet and tortured through public weekly floggings yet managed to write the following.

    I am moved – St. John of the Cross

    I am not moved, my God,
    To love you by the heaven you have promised me.
    Neither does hell, so feared,
    Move me to keep me from offending you.

    You move me, Lord,
    I am moved seeing you scoffed at and nailed on a cross.
    I am moved seeing your body so wounded.
    Your injuries and your death move me.

    It is your love that moves me,
    And in such a way that even though there were no heaven,
    I would love you,
    And even though there were no hell,
    I would fear you.

    You do not have to give me anything
    So that I love you,
    For even if I didn’t hope for what I hope,
    As I love you now, so would I love you.

    Now for the points I disagree with you
    1. The resurrection is a true transformation. See the story of the upper room and Christ’s offer to Thomas to put his fingers in the holes of his hands. The physical transformation was important to Paul and should be to us.
    2. We have always had freedom from God. Without freedom of choice (freedom from God) we would still be in the Garden of Eden. In the wonder of the creation of the universe God included freedom of choice for mankind,
    3. The crucifixion is an important element. It is more than a faithfulness to a belief that may or may not be truthful but a gift from the upside down world of Salvation. It explains the problem hat Paul Smith has in his book where he can’t explain the difference between the vengeful God of the Old Testament and the love proposed in the New Testament . God chose (an upside down) sacrifice where the God made a sacrifice to assuage his own anger that Man had become so ungrateful for the Creation he had made that he had to impose sanctions. He assuaged his anger through the sacrifice of his Son and no longer needed to correct deviant behavior. Those of faith (not deeds) could enter the kingdom of heaven.
    4. That brings us back to the poem. Faith, not deeds, allow us entry to the kingdom of heaven but our faith creates a love of Christ and through that love we conduct good deeds because of our love for Christ, not fear of hell.

    • jegrif says:

      Thanks Dave for the post and the mystic’s poem. I have always been drawn to the mystics because their sense of mystery allows them to question and explore in matters of faith. Their honouring of spiritual experience also allows them to move beyond the boundaries of reason in their connection to God. Mystics also seek unity, oneness with God rather a duality. In experience they feel at one with God.

      I guess I see less disagreement than you do. In your first point I think we both believe in a physical resurrection but resurrection has different meanings for each of us. I believe the physical resurrection tells us that God is not defeated by anything and is always offering new life, new possibilities in every situation. I think you would say that the physical resurrection changed our reality and our relationship with God and accomplished something specific: restoring our relationship with God.

      I agree with Richard Rohr in his Easter meditation where he says Jesus had a physical resurrection and a spiritual transformation. Jesus is with us but is no longer limited by space and time. And this says something about us as well: we are not just physical human beings, we are also “Being Itself”. Rohr says, “I choose to believe in bodily Resurrection because it localizes the Christ mystery (the divine presence) in this material world and in our own bodies.”

      And in point two we appear to agree that we have free choice. Science and the theory of evolution give us a new understanding of our human history. Dawna Markova wrote a book called I Will Not Die an Unlived Life. When having surgery, she had an experience of death and realized that she had more choices than she realized and that her life was not finished yet. I still remember Chapter 12 where she asks, “What is unfinished in me to give…heal…learn?” For the Evolutionary Christian we are not fallen, we are unfinished. Human beings are just growing up and learning who we are and what our life’s purpose is. In our choices we can either add or detract from reaching a critical mass for good or evil. It really is up to us. But we are not alone if we know the divine presence in and among us.

      Point 3: When it comes to our understandings of the crucifixion I do agree that we diverge. For me the angry God who uses intentional violence to save us from his anger seems to contradict being loving. If it is loving, it is not agape, divine love. I do understand the need for violence, at times, to stop evil from advancing. But most of those times there is a limited gain, gaining some time for humanity to get their act together. And in most of these situations I have not seen a lot of learning that changed human behaviour and motivation. I do believe the process of life, death and new life emerging is the sacred model for transformation. I also believe in making sacrifices for the greater good. Unfortunately, I often do not believe that I should be the one to make the sacrifice. That’s the problem with humanity. Not enough faith. For me faith and actions need to be congruent. James 2:14-26, Oops! Proof texting can go on forever, but I couldn’t help myself.

      As for the last point. That requires an essay. Let me just restate my core belief that I will continue to grow in my ability to be a more loving person. Being faithful, for me, means attending to my relationship with God and allowing our relationship to influence my decisions in my daily life.

  3. marc says:

    Beautifully written. I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t know why it is so difficult for some of us to believe in this notion of sin, heaven and hell. The only way I’m able to make sense of it is through metaphor. To feel like I’m literally going to go to hell just feels… Too simple. But to be transformed, to let go of unhealthy ways of being, that’s a vision I can follow.

    • jegrif says:

      Marc, I share your vision of the Human Being becoming more healthy, becoming aware of self-defeating behaviours and letting go of self-defeating behaviours. But then, I know I am a person who enjoys novelty, newness, challenge, different perspectives, etc. And I realize this is not a way of life for everyone. Some people enjoy safety, patterns that are reliable and nurturing, and information they can depend on. I can appreciate this perspective too because I am thankful for all those others who hold the world together while I go out and explore different ways of being.

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