Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

March 23, 2008: “The Easter Metaphor of Spring”

There was once a Unitarian Universalist minister who decided to check on how much the 1st grade Sunday school class knew about Easter, so she asked them who new what Easter meant. One little girl raised her hand and asked if that was when you had the turkey dinner, and the minister replied that, no, that was Thanksgiving.

A boy raised his hand and said that Easter was when you stayed up late and made noise at midnight. The minister explained that that was New Year’s Eve. This went on for a while and the minister was getting quite concerned . Finally, a girl in the class obviously had had an inspiration. “I know,” said the girl, “Easter was after they had killed Jesus and put him in a cave. On Easter morning he rose from the dead, came out of his cave, saw his shadow, and there was six more weeks of winter!”

So we are in the most important holiday in the Christina church year where they celebrate Jesus brought back to life in the resurrection, one of the miracles that proved Jesus was divine and one of the primary Christian beliefs. Unitarianism believed that Jesus was not part of a trinity and was human. Traditional Christianity teaches that we are born with original sin because of the fall of Adam and Eve, and that Jesus is a sacrifice to God to save us. Most of us no longer hold the traditional beliefs literally. So doe s Easter have any meaning for us today, since most of us no longer believe in supernatural miracles?

I believe it does. Easter may have universal message, not limited to those who believe ina one kind of doctrine about Jesus being the same as God. The Easter event is intertwined with Spring, rebirth and the blooming of the many breathtaking colors s bringing beauty to the former brown ground winters. Yes even the pagan fertility rites of Spring Break are connected back to the years of the ancient earth-centered times. The Jewish meal at Passover, the Seder, requires everyone to drink 4 glasses of wine before youre done! Christians serve wine as communion. That troublesome church in Corinth often got drunk at their church meals. ! Almost everything is symbolic around this sacred, yet also quite pagan and profane holiday, celebrating the resurrection of life. Animals give birth in spring. Don’t ever think that we are not connected internally, instinctually to the turning of the earth into seasons.

And in the springtime, we are reminded by the mystery of the force of a creating life that true meaning and deep happiness is not for sale, but is free to all who will seek religious meaning and live their lives accordingly.

“Spring,” said the famous Unitarian naturalist Henry David Thoreau,”…is a natural resurrection, an experience of immortality.” Perhaps part of our stirring in spring is that we have survived the winter, that in this season of the natural resurrection we, too, can be reborn into new people. Just as it seem that nature gives the earth another chance to bloom, so too, we can be reminded by this season that there is always hope for us- not to live forever, but to learn to live to our fullest right now. Religious meaning is found in love and living fully connected to one another, working to feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and yea, pay living wages to all who work heavy laden. Religion is not just a feel-good belief in an ancient apostle’s creed, but a living out of the heart and soul of deeper meaning and working toward social justice. And the world around us and in us is transformed by the love which we share. The resurrection becomes the transformation, and we Easter people search for just the right words to describe the indescribable, as we ourselves and all we touch are also transformed. Earth’s Easter comes once more. Rejoice in love and life. Love one another. The spirit of love never dies.

Jesus was seen by his followers as the Messiah, that one who would liberate them from Roman oppressions Let em tell you a wonderful Jewish story, in a book called The American Rabbi, by Gilbert. Rosenthal:

There was a rabbi who was traveling from Israel to Rome, and along the journey, he had a dream that he saw a beggar, dressed in rags and sitting in front of the gates ofRome. And the rabbi heard a voice, could it have Gods voice? which said, See that man; he is the Messiah, dressed as a beggar.

When he woke up, the dream stayed with him and as he approached the city of Rome, he was shocked to see a figure dressed in rags by the gate. The rabbi ever so hesitantly went up to him and asked him if he was the messiah. The beggar nodded. The rabbi asked what he was doing here, and the beggar replied waiting. Waiting! the rabbi exclaimed, perhaps a little louder and more forceful than he intended. Waiting? How can you wait in a world so full of misery and hatred and cruelty, and war, in a world where the children of Israel are scattered and oppressed? In a world where people are starving, and you sit there waiting? In the name of God, what are you waiting for?

The messiah looked at him right in the eyes and said-I’ve been waiting for you so that I could ask you, in the name of God, what are you waiting for? When everyone is waiting, nothing gets done.

Indeed, what are we all waiting for?

Former priest, Thomas Sheehan, in his book, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity says after discussing the various resurrection stories in the Gospels: “To put the matter in general and formal terms, Easter is the ‘object’ of a certain kind of seeking, it is something correlative to and inseparable from that seeking… Easter (whatever it may be) ‘happens’ only to those who seek it (whatever that seeking may be).”-

We even teach our children this lesson of search when we hide the Easter Eggs full of sweet candy. We now know that eating chocolate can actually cause pleasure our brain similar to a romantic kiss! we were being kissed!

We seek then, not an empty tomb of a miracle-laden, unbelievable for our time, resurrected man-god of ancient myth, but for our true selves, for our religious relation- ship to the universe, for meanings of the mysteries of life and death and how what we might call divine love is connected to all that.

We seek hope and strength, inspiration, spiritual experience. All of this we seek in Easter celebration of spring and the natural resurrection going on all around us. May we learn to let Easter or Passover or Spring Equinox nature-centered rituals ‘happen to us’ as we celebrate the beauty of springtime in our religious seeking of life’s meaning.

We have been held captive by winter, by our own limitations, by our unfaithfulness to be all that we can be. Easter is a time to celebrate our potential for freedom, a time to celebrate our continual search for truth as it is mysteriously revealed through intuition, a time to celebrate rebirth. Whenever we speak religiously we speak in metaphor, in symbolism. We seek in celebrating Easter, or any other religious holiday from our heritage, to find the meaning of the metaphor for ourselves, to put it into language we can understand and affirm. We are never unbelievers, but always searchers. Our destination is not the end of the journey, but the journey itself.

We seek not eternal springtime, or even life, but for the faith that spring will follow winter, that love and good will triumph, but all who live must die, while we will continue to find a deep religious relationship and religious meaning to our lives and to all life. We seek happiness, knowing full well that sorrow will accompany it in our lives. We seek to live life fully, knowing full well that we shall die. We sometimes in despair don’t know how we will survive, when our beloved dies, how we can go on even another day, but somehow we do. The divine instinct to live, the God within, somehow, somewhere, finds the strength which we didn’t know we had, to not only survive, but prosper.

This Easter, named after the ancient Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Spring named Eostre, who’s symbol was the Spring Hare, symbol of fertility-the Eostre Bunny, if you will, carrying another ancient symbol of fertility and even mystery, the egg. We can express ourselves most deeply when we use common symbols of understanding, realizing all the while that symbols are not the thin itself, only our limiter use of language to express the ineffable, the inexpressible. It is, after all, no coincidence that the Christian Holy Day of Easter comes in the spring; just as it is no coincidence that the Jewish holiday of Passover also comes in Spring, for long before Christianity or even Judaism, is the religion of the seasons which connected to the life and death and rebirth of the Great Mother, of Nature herself.

Jesus seemed inspired by the spirit of all religions, the spirit of love, of goodness and righteousness, of ethical principles, of tolerance, of what some might call God. Jesus was, if you will pardon the theological irony, a religious iconoclast. Icons of course being holy pictures for devotional purposes. What church would he feel comfortable in if he came back today do you suppose? He brought the humanity to the Temple and ritualistic Judaism of his time as a reformer. There is no indication that he thought he was founding anew religion or that he thought he was the religio-militaristsic Messiah that the Jews were hoping for to free them from the bondage and occupation by the Roman Empire. It is Paul and others who deify him, not Jesus’ teachings.

He lived a life of religious example, he humanized the divine, brought God down to earth, so to speak. He was a religious rebel who constantly broke the traditional religious rules of his time, especially the ones about hanging and around, and even worse, eating with he untouchable of his time, prostitutes, tax- collectors, perhaps even gays and lesbians! He spoke of social justice of it being more important to make the world a better place to live than do go through empty rituals which removed one from the everyday worlds. I can’t imagine what Jesus would think of a religion supposedly found on his teachings that only seemed to require one hour of participation on Sunday. He said that the kingdom of God, a whole different kind of kingdom, not a political one, was already within us if we would but search deep enough, if we would but believe in ourselves, if we would become fully human, fully realized, fully connected to all the people on the earth, fully working toward social justice, living up to our potential for greatness as well as helping others live up to their. We come to worship freely with no obligations or threats of punishment; we can’t believe anything we want to, and therefore are trying to find out what it is we DO believe.

Is there one among us who is never in awe of the beauty of nature in Spring or who has never loved, who does not bitter sweetly remember friends and family now gone from this life? The symbolism of Jesus being resurrected brought back to life has meant many things to many people; each of us may find meaning or not in the story that fro some reason has been told for 2000 years. It makes it neither true, nor false, but it does make it powerful and we can be transformed by finding our own religious meaning to it.

Nature herself is enough, we don’t need supernatural symbols. We seek, indeed I will argue that all religions, seek a special relationship that balances the inner with the outer, the ego of selfishness and conceit, with finding the true and even spiritual needs of the self. The sense of divine within connected to the divine of the world. When Hindus greet, they put their hands together like they are praying and bow to one another and say Namaste, the divine within me greets the divine within you. Like jigsaw puzzle pieces we must come together, fit together, year with all shapes and sizes until the picture is complete!

I close with part of a sermon poem I wrote for Easter some years ago:

And these are the days of the turning of the seasons and of our lives,
rejoice in the good and grieve for the sad;
the great cosmic circle turns another notch and time goes by ;
let us value our time and not waste it.
Let us learn to fully and fearlessly love- ourselves,
one another, the earth, and all that dwells therein.
Let us celebrate life and have faith in the power of the love which never dies
and let us share our bounty with one another,S
that all may have life more abundantly.
Let us seek, let us seek….

Amen, Peace, Shalom , Salaam, Namaste, Vaya con Su Dios