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©Doug Slagle, 2010; all rights reserved
The story all of us know so well, that of Easter morning and the resurrection of Jesus, still has resonance for us today. Whether or not the story is literal truth, its importance I believe, lies in the symbolism and allegorical message. As we just sang “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”, we can accept those words with a different but life enriching meaning. Indeed, I propose that we are all Easter people.
The ethic of Jesus and his spirituality calls us to ever embrace change and rebirth. As we advocate for social justice, for peace and for the celebration of all people – no matter the race, religion, sexuality or economic status – we embrace the progressive ideal that sees the world and our human condition not as it is now but as it should be and as it can become. Like Jesus, we are each agents of change, in our own lives…….. and in the lives of others.
The Biblical account of Easter tells us that after the trauma of Good Friday – of the execution of Jesus – came Sunday morning and the dawning joy that what he taught and the embodiment of him as a great person of history were not dead. The dejection and fear of Jesus’ followers on Friday evening – as they fled the scene of Jesus’ death – is contrasted against the jubilation of Sunday morning. My purpose is not to question whether Jesus bodily rose from the dead but to understand the reaction and intent of his followers. They refused to allow Jesus to die in their hearts and minds and in those of others. Out of tragedy, came healing. Out of tears, came laughter and joy. Out of despair, came hope.
And it is likely that his followers and those who later wrote the Biblical gospels knew this fact. We do live in a world of pain and poverty and disease and suffering. But that is a truth we accept as neither final nor definitive. We can be resurrected in how we create change in our own lives. Are we complacent, bitter and depressed? Or do we ever resurrect ourselves to new thinking, new dreams and new ways of behavior? Even further, our world can be resurrected by our actions. Do we accept inequality, homelessness, hunger and lack of healthcare? Or, do we help advance the arc of human progress and goodness? Those, for me, are the essential questions of Easter. It is not whether Jesus literally rose from the dead and became God. In the life, teachings and death of Jesus, the work for change in us and in the world today are profound answers to the meaning of Easter. To that end, yes indeed, Jesus Christ is risen today!
An anonymous writer once said, “Life is change. Growth is spiritual. Choose wisely.” And the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program states that the real executioner of humans is our own psyche. The way we think and act can literally or figuratively kill us. Our power, however, comes when we say enough to our current thinking or approach to life. We tell ourselves that we no longer want to live another day as we are now. We surrender and accept our powerlessness. And that is our transformative moment – when our old selves die and a new person comes to life.
In a story appearing in Spiritual Today about the recovery of an alcoholic, the author writes of his own resurrection experience. This individual writes, “My moment of transformation arrived on a night long ago, about three years into my recovery. I was on the grounds of a small chapel in a minimum security federal prison at which I had been sentenced. There I would once again meet with my sponsor, an eternally patient, giving and compassionate soul who had been my guide for nearly two years; a man of the cloth who also struggled one day at a time with the demon at the bottom of a glass.
The desert sky above had cleared shortly after dusk; a parting velvet curtain of clouds revealed a clear, crisp indigo night. Looking into the heavens, I could see stars whose light had left their points of origin a million or more years before, and I realized I was gazing into the depths of life itself.
As I stood there, I was once again touched by the caring words of my sponsor – “Just let go, and all will be revealed.” I breathed, and touched something – something both within me and without.
I was filled with an abiding sense of faith and trust. I suddenly felt humility, surrender, freedom and innocence. No longer did I need the crutch of alcohol or of anything else outside of me. I was reborn and it all came together for me that exquisite night as I humbly surrendered pretense and pride and opened myself to change.”
And such is the power of Easter. How can we be reborn today, tomorrow or next week? We can each evolve and change every day of our lives. How can I be more loving? How can I reach out and change the world for the better? What inner demons control me? How do I get rid of them? How can I live life childlike, carefree and embracing every moment I am alive with joy and wonder? Let me, too, be risen today!
According to the Zen Buddhists, we can begin to practice seven simple habits to change our lives for the better. First, we must change the way we think about life and the circumstances that affect us. We are to count our blessings, see everything we do as a growth opportunity and determine that each day will be a positive one. Second, we should engage in some form of daily physical exercise. There is a strong connection between our physical and emotional sense of well-being. Third, we should stay focused on one goal at a time. We should not multi-task. Fourth, we must eliminate non-essential routines and material things from our lives. Maintaining clarity of purpose and simplicity in our surroundings are helpful. Fifth, we are to practice kindness to other people and that includes those with whom we are most close. Being generous, loving and caring in all of our personal interactions with others creates a positive attitude in us. And, extending kindness to strangers through acts of service to them builds humility and peace in us and in the world. Sixth, we should establish a regular daily routine and then stick to it as much as possible. Finally, seventh, we must find spiritual meaning and purpose in all that we do. What eternal greater good are we achieving with each task we undertake? While these seven steps are not the only ways to alter our lives for the better, they constitute seven possible ways to reinvent and resurrect ourselves.
The story of the Window, by an unknown author, is an example of enlightened thinking. Two seriously ill men are confined to the same hospital room. Both begin to talk and share their life stories of wives, children, careers and vacations. They talk for many hours each day. One of the men was in a bed closest to the window. Each day he would describe the scene he saw outside to the other man who was unable to see the view. That man would lie back, close his eyes and listen to descriptions of the wonderful world outside. The one nearest the window spoke of a park with a lake in which ducks and swans moved about and young children sailed toy boats. He described the many trees, landscaping and flowers as he also talked about the lovers he saw walking arm in arm or the many families who enjoyed the beautiful park. At night, he talked of the city skyline and the thousands of twinkling lights he saw off in the distance. Each day was a different and ever changing scene which he dutifully described to his roommate.
As time went on, though, the windowless man began to resent the one whose bed was near the window. He grew bitter and angry and felt that it was unfair the other could enjoy such beauty when he could not. His attitude turned sour and he soon had difficulty sleeping as he thought about the situation.
One morning he awoke to find nurses taking away the man by the window. During the night he had passed away. Immediately, the one who had been positioned away from the window asked if he could now be moved to the bed with a view. After the nurses had gone through the effort to move him and get him comfortable in the new bed, the man asked the nurse to pull apart the drapes to the window so he could now enjoy the world outside. Once the drapes were opened, the view outside was revealed. The window looked out onto a blank, stark brick wall across a narrow alley.
For us as rational and thinking people, we have control over how we perceive our lives. Even as we will all one day approach our demise, I pray that we might continue to be reborn and claim a wide and fantastic life full of beauty and joy.
My dear friends, the power of what we do here each and every Sunday is Easter repeated over and over again. It is also a power we can incorporate in our daily lives – it is never too late and we are never so broken that we too cannot be resurrected and changed in how we experience life. We are each one of us fragile and wounded souls, hurt by others, by the circumstances of life and by our own errors. Whether it be addictions, negative attitudes or complacency that holds us back, we can each identify parts of us that need change. As we look into ourselves, we realize we are not as strong as we think we are. The story of Easter tells us, though, that there is power in the grave. At our weakest, at our worst, we also possess great strength. When we are battered and symbolically crucified in our daily lives, we can yet be victorious. In this beautiful and awe inspiring world of ours, where beauty and majesty are expressed in every mountain and every sunset, let us rejoice. In the diversity of the human race, there is wonder in our differences – as young or old, male or female, black or white, gay or straight, we are alive, we are here, we are an Easter people – ever changing ourselves and ever seeking a new and greater world.