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April 4, 2010: “Easter: A Question of Life of Death”

Unitarian Universalist minister and satirist, Christopher Raible, has   written a parody of some of our hymns in a little book called,   appropriately enough, “Hymns for the Cerebration of Strife”, because   the old hymnal was called  ?Hymns for the Celebration of Life.? This   is his version of the Easter hymn, “Lo, the Earth Awakes Again”:

  Sing an Easter hymn in season, Alleluia!/Even if we have no reason, Alleluia! At the Vernal Equinox,Alleluia!/Imitate the orthodox, Alleluia!

  Dresses up in the latest fashion, Alleluia!/Sing of praise, but not of   passion,Alleluia!

 Sing of bunnies, bees and birds,Alleluia!/Sing an old hymn with new   words, Alleluia!

  In the Cross of Christ we’d glory, Alleluia!/But we don’t believe the   story, Alleluia!

 For our sins Christ can’t have died, Alleluia!/In them we’re well   satisfied, Alleluia!

     There is a difference in the air now that Spring is here, indeed,   there is a difference in the ground, in our very blood and bodies!   This last week the weather has been wonderful, like a blessing, hasn?t   it? I mean, if we believed in that sort of thing. It?s like there has   been a rebirth, a resurrection a, well, an Easter!

    The word Easter comes from the old English goddess of spring, Eostre,   whose symbols were the spring hare or rabbit and that other symbol of   fertility the egg! Notice how we have kept some of those ancient   symbols alive even if we have no idea how or why. It is like the story   of the minister who held up one of those big plastic eggs for a   children’s story and asked who could tell him what came inside this?   One of the children, more knowledgeable than the others   said,?pantyhose!?

         So today, Easter,  is arguably the most important day in   Christianity, which teaches  basically that JEsus  was crucified,    buried, and three days later was resurrected, or rose from the dead,   taught for 40 days, then ascended into heaven on a cloud to sit on the   right hand  of God, and that He died to save us from our sins. And   that because of that, if we believe in JEsus and accept him as our   savior then, we will have everlasting life in heaven, and will not die.    What I want to argue, very briefly this morning, is my interpretation   that Easter is really a message and a matter of life or death, but   that it does not have to be seen only as a supernatural event, nor do   we have to be saved from any original sin. Easter is a a Spring event   and therefore very much a natural event! However, since we began using   words, we have always found symbolism and myths or stories to teach   our young as well as the rest of us who learn better that way as   well!   In some ways, Easter, I want to argue is a way of thinking about   the life and death of all of us, not just the life and death of Jesus, one of the world?s most profound and deeply spiritual teachers whose   life and spirit touched the lives of his followers in such an   incredible way that one of the 5 major religions of the world grew up   around his words, actions, and life, as well as myths, church   traditions, and perversions of the same, of course! Part of the   meaning of Easter is a continuing memorial service for Jesus and his   teachings of love being the answer and seeking being an important   religious dimension! One of the meanings of the resurrection, I want   to suggest, is that it is continuing as long as celebrate Easter, even   we who are interpreting it perhaps vastly different than the   traditional Christians (notice, I said, perhaps!). Because it is   important to remember there have always been many interpretations of   the resurrection.

     My colleague, Rev. Mark W. Harris wrote:  ?Celebrating Many Resurrections:?

    “Is the resurrection real? If we believe in a creative power which   shatters the icy tomb of winter with the life-giving miracle of   spring, we have seen a resurrection. If we believe in a creative power   which moves tens and then tens of thousands of people to cry against   the injustices of society, enabling the downfall of hatred and   prejudice, then we have created a resurrection. If we believe in a   creative power lying within each human breast which enables us to   break the bonds of personal pain and know the hope of new tomorrows,   then we have experienced a resurrection.”

     In some ways it is like celebrating the memories of our loved ones   who have helped make us who we are, who are part of who we are, who   are, in some ways resurrected IN us as part of us us, especially the   part of us that loves them and remembers them and lives as they have   taught us.

     In his book, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Vietnamese Buddhist monk   Thich Nhat Hanh, writes:, ?In Christianity, you have to believe in the   resurrection or you are not considered a Christian. I am afraid this   criterion may discourage some people from looking into the life of   Jesus. This is a pity, because we can appreciate Jesus Christ as both   an historical door and an ultimate door… When we look into and touch   deeply the life and teachings of Jesus, we can penetrate the reality   of God. Love, understanding, courage, and acceptance are expressions   of the life of Jesus… With the Holy Spirit and Kingdom of god within   him, Jesus touched the people of his time…. For me, the life of   Jesus is his most basic teaching, more important than even faith in   the resurrection of faith in eternity… When we are in touch with the   highest spirit in ourselves, we too are a buddha, filled with the Holy   Spirit and we become very tolerant, very open, very deep, and very   understanding.?

     In the Spring, we see the resurrection or rebirth of the earth from   the seeming death of winter, the bare trees, the ground covered with   snow,  the bitter cold; it feels to us what death must feel like. Then   we  get weather like this past week, the plants start to bloom, the   robins return, we begin to think about planting gardens or new   flowers. So nature reminds us of the cycle of life and death, doesn?t   it?

     One of the children?s stories  that Halcyon, Our Director of   Religious Education, and I were looking at was titled, First Snow by   Helen Coutant about a Vietnamese Buddhist approach to death, where a   young granddaughter overhears that her grandmother is dying and she   doesn?t know what that word means, so she asks her grandmother. She   tells her to go outside as it gets ready to snow and she must learn   for herself what it means. The family has moved from Viet Nam to   America. The granddaughter thought it had something to do with the   coming snow, because it seemed mysterious to her, since she had never   seen snow but didn?t why. When the snow finally comes,  a single   snowflake lands on her hand she wonders if this is what dying means.

         ?But as if that thought had made a change, the snowflake shrank.   ?Comeback, oh please come back!? Hardly had she said this than the   snowflake was gone. A tiny drop of water rolled down into her hand.    Lien stared at her palm, at the drop that was just water. Then it,   too, began to change. It seemed to expand in the sunlight; perhaps it   enclosed another world, like the paperweight on hr father?s desk.   ?Look, grandmother,? Lien called, running toward the house. But as she   moved, her hand trembled and the drip of water,  lighter than sunshine   rolled off. It fell to the ground and was gone.

    ?Oh,?cried Lien, going down on her knees. Searching for the beautiful   drop she scraped away layers of dead and frozen leaves. Her fingertips   stung from the cold. But she continued to look until something poked   against her palm. When the water had fallen, a tiny pine tree now   stood up in the sudden light. No bigger than her thumb, this  little   tree already smelled of deep rich forests.

    At that moment lien thought she understood what dying meant. The drop   of water had not really gone; it had only changed, like the snowflake,   into something else. ?You will change, too,? Lien spoke to the tiny   tree,?but not yet.? Carefully she covered the little tree with its   blanket of leaves?

      Then she runs back in the house to tell her grandmother that she   knows what dying is… The author tells us that the Buddhist believe   that life and death are bit two pars of the same thing.

     The Jewish religion doesn?t teach much about heaven or hell; indeed,   even the Christian scriptures and the teachings of Jesus don?t give us   much detail. From all the stuff we hear today, you?d think it?s all   spelled out in the Bible, but it?s not in the Bible! It was all made   up by various people over a long time and is still being made up or   interpreted. But think about this: Jesus doesn?t die, and what we   really mean is the wonderful teachings about loving one another and   seeking truth, and the sermon the mount, which many people think   should replace the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, doesn?t die when we   celebrate Easter and he is resurrected each year that we talk about   the story- not literally, but in the story! He is changed, just as our   grandmother is changed, from human flesh and blood -to memory and   story- to part of us!

  Easter (from Blessing the Bread, by Lynn Ungar)

  What I want to know is simply this:/Who rolled away the stone? Did Jesus, reviving from the touch of Judas? kiss/Turn miracle to   muscle on his own?

 Or did some savior of the Savior move the rock/To let life enter from   outside ?

 Resurrection as a sort of picking of the lock

 That separates the bridegroom from his waiting bride?

 Perhaps the stone itself got bored/With waiting for a happy ending to   the story, And rolled itself away to set the body it had stored

 Upon the royal road to new life and eternal glory.

  You might say it does not matter,/But when you are waiting in the dark

 A person wants to know if Life is company or caller,

 The friend you trust to seek you, or the waiting spark.

     Every Spring we are reminded by the beauty as well as the cruelty of   nature of life and death, of sunshine and storm, flowers and floods.   So people we love die and we want to know why or where they go-part of   it remains a mystery, of course, but part of it we know is change. The   resurrection is the part that stays with us, that never dies.

     My friend and colleague Scott Alexander, shared this story in his   sermon about Easter entitled: Eastering   ?Easter,? says Scott,? is a   decision. A decision of the human heart. A brave and beautiful   decision to live- fully, recklessly, courageously- even in the face of   death and despair.  ..  Yes, of course, Easter as a verb!   Easter as   a… decision of the heart against crucifixion. Easter as the process   of a human being moving  against death, moving  against meaningless,   isolation, negation and despair…  I  easter-You  easter-We  easter,   together, by means of the resurrection of the spirit  we bring to   birth in our battered trembling hearts… Go ahead, do some eastering.   No matter what befalls, afflicts, limits, pains or confounds you. Roll   that stubborn rock away from whatever entombs your heart.?

     How shall we Easter? How shall we decide to live our lives? One of   the reasons that Jesus became a great religious teacher was  that he   taught with an inner authority that  was unusual; indeed it was one of   his teachings that we all have that inner authority to seek, to love,   to be one with the holy, with who some call God, with Love. Let love be the doctrine of this church and service our prayer and may   we truly love one another and ourselves. May we work for justice and   peace in the world, explore spiritual dimensions, and spread love.   Happy Spring, Happy Easter

    Amen, Peace, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be   upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A   Hindu greeting the divinity with me greets  the divinity within you)   Blessed Be, and  one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish   long before I went in to ministry. ?Vaya con Dios? is Spanish for   Good-bye, but literally is ?Go with God,? So I adapted it to say ?Vaya   Con Su Dios, ?Go with your idea or interpretation of God.?

  Peace,Love, Shalom,Salaam, Blessed Be,Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios