Mary H. Reaman, D. Min.
Christianity began with the resurrection story. In the presence of an empty tomb, the suspicion that Jesus was divine was affirmed by the belief that he had risen from the dead. Prior to this breaking story, Jesus had a handful of followers – 12 men and a few women.
Had the crucifixion ended like all the other crucifixions of the time, of which there were many, where the executed were left on their crosses for the vultures and other wild animals on which to feed, the man named Jesus of Nazareth would have probably faded into history like all the other criminals who were hanged for heresy or opposition to Roman law. But Jesus’ life story is known because of his death story.
Had the women who were part of his community never gone back to visit the tomb to find it open and empty…the story of Jesus of Nazareth may have never spread and the seed of Christianity never taken root. It’s the resurrection that establishes Jesus as the Christ.
Looking back after his death, his followers interpret what he said and did in light of his resurrection. It wasn’t just the empty tomb that gave rise to the resurrection story. It was the experience people had of Jesus after he died that ignited the Jesus movement. They felt his presence. They saw his life in a new light. They heard his words in a new way and understood, maybe for the first time, the message he was trying to live, to make real, to exemplify.
According to the stories we have it is clear that Jesus used all kinds of methods and means to try to awaken people to their true nature, their essence, their highest Self, the Divine Presence that is at the core of who we are, which is always free, never bound, and cannot be wounded or stilted in any way. The accounts we have of the words and actions of Jesus’ life reveal that he challenged the ways that people, institutions, culture and society tried to keep others bound.
JC wanted people to be free! Free from the societal roles, free from poverty, free from disease, free from sin/ego… That’s what he kept saying to people! You’re free! You don’t have to be this way! You don’t have to perceive reality this way! You don’t have to buy into believing you are unworthy or less than! This is the essence of the story where Jesus heals the paralytic… The scripture says, “Which is easier? For me to say, ‘you are forgiven?’ or ‘take up your mat and go home?”
With his life, Jesus was trying to reveal that there is another way, another way to be, to live, to relate! Freedom, true freedom, looks like this – loving one another, but even more, loving your enemy. Forgiving those who harm you. Not allowing material wealth or possessions enslave you.
Loving the Holy One (Holy Oneness) and realizing that this Oneness is actually your truest Essence, that which brought you into being and in whose image you are made, whose attributes you share. Above all, if we want to be free, we have to revolt against exercising power over others, because power, when used as a force to control, always results in violence and oppression and is incompatible with the total acceptance, equality, and love of all others that is the very heart of Jesus’ message.
According to the Christian scriptures, Jesus said all 613 commandments of Jewish Law could be reduced to two: “Love God (Oneness) with all your heart, soul, and might. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving Self and other is the way we grow into our divine nature. Love is God/lovingness is godliness. This was JC’s message!
He lived in a way that kept him vulnerable, open and ever -changing, claiming nothing and no one as his own. He is in many ways the archetypal Wise Fool we talked about last week, who spoke in riddles/parables (The kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in a field…), challenged the status quo (when speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well which was forbidden not only because she was a woman, but also because she was Samaritan, a perceived enemy), ignored the laws that violated the law of love (when he healed on the Sabbath because he didn’t want to leave someone bound for one more minute, let alone one more day!)
He spoke truth to those who’d rather not have heard it (like when he said to those about to stone a woman to death for her unacceptable behavior, “let the one among you without sin cast the first stone…”) And he angrily challenged the authority and power of the politicians, corporate types and the chief priests who were in business with them when he over-turned the tables in the Temple area.
In opposition to a power-hungry, narcissistic, and closed culture, Jesus shared who he was, what he was about, and what he had – whether food, comfort, companionship, or compassion – asking only that we do the same. This, he said, would transform everything!
After the resurrection, Jesus’ followers saw these actions, behaviors and words in a new light. They revealed and confirmed what Jesus had been saying all along, “God is in me, and I in [God], I am in you and you are in me and we are One.” In other words, God is in us!
The idea of the Incarnation, that God is in the flesh, was a radical idea in Jesus’ time and in many ways, remains one in our own time. That somehow God and we, divinity and humanity, sacred and secular are intertwined, interdependent and at their essence One, has astounding implications for those who do, and did in Jesus time, believe that godliness wasn’t to be striven for, but only worshipped.
Frankly, I believe the seed of disease and corruption in the Christian church came with the idea that Jesus should be worshipped rather than imitated. It was this idea of worshipping Jesus that led to the institutionalization of rites and rituals which then employed men to make sure they were done in the correct way and enforce punishment of those who strayed from the institutionalized doctrine and dogma that built up around the rituals. I don’t believe for a minute that Jesus ever wanted people to worship him. More than anything, I believe JC was trying to share a path to freedom by inviting people to join him in doing what he did, living like he lived, loving like he loved.
The idea that divinity and humanity were intertwined was revolutionary because it suggested that God or godliness was not beyond our reach, not out there somewhere, inaccessible to us, but that you and I are part and parcel of the Holy One[ness] and therefore we too can be instruments of love, healing, mercy, peace, and unity. This means humanity has to stop waiting for God to do what we can do ourselves! The way life unfolds between us, and on the earth, is not controlled by a God out there somewhere, but by us, by our actions, interactions, and relationships – directly resulting from the way we love our neighbors as ourselves.
I have come to see Jesus’ journey from birth, through life, into death and resurrection, and finally ascension as a metaphor for the way God or the Universe brings Life to fullness. These are the evolutionary steps through which all of life cycles and through which we awaken, if we choose to do so.
The cycle will go on and on, but whether or not we awaken to it and consciously participate in it depends on how we react and respond to the births, deaths, resurrections and ascensions we experience in our own lives. If we go through life never paying attention, taking stock, making adjustments in our beliefs and behaviors, never allowing the circumstances and challenges of life to change us in ways that help us be more of who we want to be, we are not awake. We are not becoming. We are not yet free.
Jesus gave us a model for living the journey to freedom awake. He showed us that when we traverse the journey of life with love, forgiveness, sharing comfort, care, presence… it transforms us and those with whom we are in relationship.
This is the point and purpose of resurrection! Easter is not so much about the resurrection of Jesus as it is about our own. The resurrection to which Easter calls us requires that we make the changes we know we need to make to blossom into the person, people and community we want to be and have the potential to be.
Easter is not simply a day of celebration: It is, as well, a day of decision. What is really to be decided is whether or not we ourselves will rise from the deadening grip of this world’s burnt-out systems, stifling misconceptions, stilting self-hatred and awaken from the addictions, attitudes and relationships that keep us sedated and asleep to the life-giving time of the Christ-consciousness rising again, this time in us, as us.
Embodying our divinity is a call to embrace wholeheartedly the best of our humanity – as Jesus did – the ability to be selfless, to interfere with injustice, to be forgiving, concerned, connected, a healing presence. These are the attributes we need to resurrect if we, and the world, are to be made new! Because a man from Nazareth did it more than 2000 years ago, we know its possible! We have everything we need to do it… Each Other!
The only question we have to ask ourselves now, is how much do we want it? How badly do we want to become new, live wholeheartedly into the Divine Presence that is our Truest Self? Am I really willing to change my behaviors, attitudes, thought patterns and perceptions in order to embrace the radical freedom I need to be me, my best self, a divine presence? It won’t be easy to resurrect the best part of me and you into life. But I know of no other endeavor worth giving my life for – Do you?