One of the things I tell prospective mentors in the PathMakers Program that I manage for WE CAN that they will want to think about as a piece of their role is to offer their mentee a different lens through which to view their situation, their goals, their life. A way to look at things that they might not have considered before. Maybe something totally out of the box for them. The kind of thing that makes you say, “Ahhhhh – now I see it!”
This is what I imagine happened on that first “Easter” morning when, depending on which gospel or writer you listen to, any number of Jesus’ disciples arrived to find an empty tomb, some of them greeted by him or given instructions and some not, that resulted in a sudden shift in consciousness; a new understanding that redefined how they would live from that time forward. They were changed in this instant. This resurrection story suggests that Jesus was raised to a new dimension of life that could not be destroyed by death any longer.
Retired Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong, in his recent book, Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today, posits that Christianity is not answering relevant questions these days and that this is why it is diminishing as a belief system. Perhaps this is the case with many of our belief systems today. Responding to ancient questions that are not any longer being asked in the mainstream will not provide solutions that resonate with people and ultimately, they will cease paying attention to what you have to say. There is a whole lot to explore there, but I want to focus on Easter because that’s where we are today and what he says in the resurrection chapter makes meaning for me.
The language used to describe these reported appearances of Jesus following his death and entombment are not the same words that one would use to talk about seeing something right in front of you, like I see you all in these little squares here and you see me. The word itself translates into something more like a breakthrough in our thinking; a putting together of things that we wouldn’t have before; an innovative combination of ideas and understanding that form a new insight. Like with my Mentors, it is a fresh lens.
What the gospel characters “saw” was this new way of being and living that Jesus had been modeling for them; new revelations in the stories of their people that they had been sharing as he told them with a different emphasis; a glimpse, perhaps, of what was most valuable and important to consider as one went about the business of their days. This idea of resurrection is about an ongoing process rather than a “once and done” event. It is about a focus on expanded living; unlimited loving; and enhanced being. He called on his followers to transcend the boundaries and fears of their day; reminded them of their interconnectedness with all of life based in their common bond as humanity possessed of that spark at center; a remnant of the Big Bang that shifted the course of evolution. Jesus posited an active sacredness, alive in our world through the day to day movement of people; alive in the ordinariness of human interaction; powerful in its grounding in love and connection.
This is what those early disciples awoke to. Like poet, David Whyte, they arose out of their slumber and their deep longing for a new hopefulness. They were ripe for this and we could say that such a time was a once in all the world occurrence or we could look around us and say that we, too, are ripe for an awakening that will carry us into the future. This is the Easter message that calls to us in our time with our own longings for what James Conlon calls a new life that is seen as a thing of mysterious and sacred significance; a world that values community and wisdom; reciprocity, creativity and opportunity; that sees with new eyes.
Our world, our nation, our communities, and our people are beyond ripe, I would say. We have watched with horror the rise of violence in our midst; the growing disregard for our earth home and its survival; watched the increase of polarization in thought that has caused us to take up blaming and to take sides; build walls; refuse cooperation. This present pandemic is not the kind of awakening we would ever have wished for; its devastation only now coming into focus in ways that are hitting home for many of us. But it is a wake-up call, none the less. We are part of a global family, interconnected beyond the scale of what we could even imagine before a couple of months ago. The sooner we grasp hold of that reality, the better off we will all be. As we settle into what has been several weeks of distancing, knowing that we have, in all likelihood, several more to go, we are poised for awakenings on a personal, a familial, and a communal level.
We are spending time alone with ourselves; remembering the kinds of things that had brought us joy before we got too busy to attend to them. I have been reading more – if you could believe that I could actually do more of that! I have taken up crocheting again, will probably work on a sweater I started over a year ago and may, before this is done, thread my loom for a weaving project that has been on my mind for a while. I have planted peas and chard and radishes; lettuces and beets; the feel and smell of the earth in my hands reviving my senses. What have you been doing? What projects, once forgotten or set aside are you now awakening to?
People are remembering, too, how important family is. Sure, we knew that, but now there is more of an urgency about it and we have taken to calling and zooming, writing and face- booking with parents and siblings and children that we may have begun to take for granted. We are awakened to a new reality, a reminder of the love and care we share with them. As a community we have awakened to new learning and ways of connecting; awakened to skill sets we wouldn’t have dreamed of only a few months ago; awakened to the very real importance of reaching out, touching base, making sure everyone has what they need to move through this time.
We are awakening with increased attentiveness to the science of our living – I know much more now about the difference between a viral and a bacterial phenomenon. I stand in awe of the scientists I have read about isolating proteins, searching their make up for markers that would indicate other solutions to this crisis. I am grateful for their painstaking work for the betterment of humanity as they compare notes across the physical borders we impose. They know that we are all one people on this earth.
We awaken, too, to the hard truths of this pandemic. So many people will not make it through to the other side. Some of them will be people who are close to us and some not, but honestly, the magnitude is the hardest piece. We call ourselves seekers of truth and that doesn’t always reap good news. We will be sad and angry and grieve; our hearts filled to overflowing and I want to say that this is to be expected and that we can make space for each other to feel all of it. That is what community is all about – taking the good and the bad and the in between together in ways that allow each of us to express ourselves fully and without shame.
Our faith, too, calls to us in this time, offering us a fresh lens through which to view our living. Our principles affirm a somewhat countercultural stance on relationship, I am sad to say. Sad that as a culture, we still have not “seen” the Easter message into being. Easter calls us to Love in our encounters with one another, with family, with people on the street; with people we disagree with and have a hard time with. It is about creating right relationship, justice in our midst. Our Unitarian Universalist tradition asks us to employ our Principles now more than ever, and not to just give a nod to them. Acceptance and growth; equity in a time when we could easily devolve into “every person for themselves” thinking.
Easter reminds us that Jesus was willing to die for what he believed in; knowing that it might take this extreme an ending for there to be a new beginning in our world; for the sacredness of Loving to take root in the hearts of humankind. He lives, not in the breathing, walking, talking way we think of living; not in some heavenly abode beyond the world we know; but in the stories we tell each other about this Love; this just way of being; stories that cannot be quelled; stories that carry this message into eternity. This is the story we are called to be the bearers of. May we in this season of remembrance and hope, be awakened to the Love expressed in our faith and present in our connections. May we purpose ourselves to be tellers of the story in ways relevant to our times, in order that a powerful Love be planted, take root and grow in our midst.
Blessed be and Amen.