Can You Say Resurrection?
March 27, 2005
Were you all aware that the word “Easter” is not in the Bible. And Jesus nor his disciples directs that this holiday should be observed. Well, if you get a King James Version of the Bible, you’ll find the word Easter in Acts 12:4. But that is an incorrect translation of the Greek word pascha – which actually means Passover. More modern translations have corrected this. So if it didn’t come from the Bible – where did “Easter” originate?
Most scholars trace the name and celebration back to ancient goddesses and spring celebrations. There are various spellings of these goddesesses and celebrations –
but all are close to our spelling of Easter with the closest bing E-o-s-t-r-e – the name of the Anglo-Saxon goddess of Spring. Most of the Easter symbols, including the eggs and the rabbit, are based on these pagan celebrations. Like Christmas, these holidays were modified for Christians. And since Easter was celebrated near Passover and was all about rebirth, Christians began to celebrate this day as a commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus. The Emperor Constantine, in his efforts to provide uniformity in his empire, had the Nicene Council set a uniform method for determining the date for the celebration. At least Uniform for the Roman Church. In any case, the holiday has evolved and now comes down to us – today – Easter Sunday, 2005.
Do you have happy Easter memories? Perhaps getting new church clothes! Maybe finally being able to wear those white shoes you’d been wanting to wear but couldn’t because Easter had not arrived yet! Do you remember hunting eggs like our children are doing right now? When I was a child attending elementary school at Mattie Lively, we had an Easter Egg hunt at the home of one of my classmates. His name was Alan Minkovitz and his family was Jewish. Nevertheless, we went to his home for the Easter Egg hunt. They had beautiful azaleas and dogwoods blooming in their yard. And that’s one of the memories that has stuck with me to this day. So the secular side of Easter brings Happy memories for me.
But what about the religious side? I can remember each year being told of the sacrifice that Jesus had made for MY sins. He died for ME. And the music, especially tugged at my heart.
(Sing) Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
Yes, Jesus shed his blood for me. And that blood washed away my sins.
(Sing) Oh! precious is the flow, That makes me white as snow.mNo other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
When I was nine years old I made my profession of faith at a church revival while listening to such songs. How could I not give my heart to this man who had so much love in him that he had taken on the burden of my sins. But the good news was that Jesus and his love did not remain in the grave. And the music resounded that message.
(Sing) He arose! He arose! Hallelujah Christ Arose!
Can You Say Resurrection? That concept is tough for many. And – like many of you, the time came when my head and my heart were at odds. And my head not only won, it converted my heart to a new way – which made more sense. So NOW – what do I do with the resurrection story?
For many years I tried to just not think about it. I tried to think, instead, about the life of Jesus and his teachings. Because I could believe those and they made sense to me. But I could not use what I could not believe in my life. So I began to view the Easter holiday as a time to celebrate rebirth and renewal – A Springtime celebration that I could share with my children and other family members. And that’s where many Unitarian Universalists probably find themselves – celebrating the renewal aspects of Easter and ignoring the resurrection.
A few years ago, however, the resurrection story became very important to me again. In January of 1998, I shared a reflection with my Sunday School class at Pittman Park United Methodist Church. It’s entitled: Death and Resurrection. I shared this with my class so they would know what was then going on in my life; and I’d like to share it with you now.
The idea of Death and Resurrection has a very special meaning to people of faith. And usually we think of this concept in terms of the story of the resurrection of Jesus. But I think this death and resurrection metaphor has a much broader application. For example, the death and resurrection story has special meaning for many whose loved ones have died. And this image of resurrection gives a glorious hope for many as they approach that ultimate death. But we also die small deaths everyday. And at the end of the day we experience the death of ourselves for that day knowing that the sun will come up tomorrow and we will resurrect.
The death and resurrection metaphor has become especially important to me in recent days. I’ve enjoyed a wonderful marriage and I’m so grateful for that. Oh, we’ve had lots of ups and downs, as all marriages do, but for the most part, it was exciting, vibrant, and glorious. But a cancer invaded my marriage. And like our classmate Malcolm and others we’ve known, I really tried to defeat it – because some do! However, during the Christmas holidays, the pain became so unbearable. And since that time, I’ve had to come to the reality that my marriage is over and that, of course, has been very difficult. I’ve also had to realize that the “married me” will also be no more. And that’s about the only me I know. We were married in 1968. I was 17 and had just graduated from high school. My husband was 21 and just flunking out of college. But, it seemed right at the time! So I don’t really know who an adult Jane is without the Fred. And that’s where the death and resurrection metaphor becomes so meaningful to me. I feel like I’m in a tomb, and it’s dark. But friends, I can hear the stone moving. I don’t know how long it will take, but its moving. And I can see a little crack of light. So I feel good about it…. Because I know that, for me,
Easter is coming!“
It’s interesting that a Bible Story that I had tried to IGNORE for years because I could not believe it literally – came back to comfort me at this very difficult time. Why was resurrection the important metaphor for me rather than perhaps renewal or metamorphosis? Because for there to be resurrection – something must die. For me, it was what had been an important part of my identity. Sometimes we have to let our identity DIE before the stone can roll away and we can become a new person. That’s what happened to me – and Easter DID come!
So – little by little – even as I began to “come out” of the Christian closet, I also began to try to recover the stories and symbolism of my Christian heritage that can help me as I go forward in life.
As part of my journey toward ministry, I’m taking a New Testament course this semester. And as I read about the early church, it’s becoming very clear to me that the reason Christianity took off and grew so rapidly has little to do with the historical Jesus. In fact, sometimes I wonder if some Christians have really examined the teachings of Jesus. It’s not the historical Jesus that Christians worship. It’s the resurrected Jesus! Because that Jesus has been presented to them as a living spirit – God incarnate living in their hearts.
I do not know what happened to Jesus’ body after his death. I do not believe that his dead body regained breath and came back to life after two or three days. However, I do not doubt, that his followers and disciples saw glimpses of Jesus, heard his voice, felt his presence. People still do today. And they see Mary. And the father in Florida who lost his little girl so tragically hears her tell him what he should do to prevent this happening to others. Have you ever heard a voice or seen or felt something that later you realized wasn’t a physical reality. Have you ever had false memories? Our brains are very complex and we are not sure how these kinds of things happen. But they do. And as some of his followers spread the word of the glimpses they had of Jesus, others saw and felt him too. As far as they were concerned, he was alive!!
Why was that so important? I believe it is important because we need to feel that whatever it is that we consider as divine or sacred or ultimate in our lives is a living spirit – not necessarily as a separate ontological being – but as something that can give us the hope and power and energy to make a difference in this world.
That’s why “breath” is so important to the Buddhist, why verbalizing prayer is so important to the Jew, the Muslim, the Bahai, why movement to drums is so important to many who practice earth based religions, why being with others in community is so important to the Humanist, and why connecting to all of nature, including the beautiful flowers we see here today, is so important to the Naturalist.
We need to embody the Ultimate.
We need to embody LOVE.
So today Christians around the world celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus – a symbol of the living spirit of love! That living Spirit of Love that filled my nine year old heart!
I may use different words and different theology now than I did then, but I want to keep that living Spirit!
So I say – Let us celebrate the resurrection spirit of Life and Love also.
One way that many Unitarian Universalists have celebrated this holiday is through our Annual Flower Communion.
(Note: Much of the service below was excerpted from the web page of UUA’s Church of the Larger Fellowship)
The Unitarian Universalist Flower Communion service which we arc about to celebrate was originated in 1923 by Dr. Norbert Capek [pronounced Chah-Peck], founder of the modem Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia. On the last Sunday before the summer recess of the Unitarian church in Prague, all the children and adults participated in this colorful ritual, which gives concrete expression to the humanity-affirming principles of our liberal faith. When the Nazis took control of Prague in 1940, they found Dr. Capek’s gospel of the inherent worth and beauty of every human person to be-as Nazi court records show- “…too dangerous to the Reich [for him] to be allowed to live.” Dr. Capek was sent to Dachau, where he was killed the next year during a Nazi “medical experiment.” This gentle man suffered a cruel death, but his message of human hope and decency lives on through his Flower Communion, which is widely celebrated today. It is a noble and meaning-filled ritual we arc about to recreate.
Whenever Dr. Capek conducted his Flower Communion in Prague, he would say this prayer as he “consecrated” the flowers:
Infinite Spirit of Life, we ask thy blessing on these, thy messengers of fellowship and love. May they remind us. amid diversities of knowledge and of gifts, to be one in desire and affection, and devotion to thy holy will. May they also remind us of the value of comradeship, of doing and sharing alike. May we cherish friendship as one of thy most precious gifts. May we not let awareness of another’s talents discourage us, or sully our relationship, but may we realize that, whatever we can do, great or small, the efforts of all of us are needed to do thy work in this world.
Partaking of the Communion
It is time now for us to share in the Flower Communion. I ask that as you each in turn approach the communion vase you do so quietly–reverently–with a sense of how important it is for each of us to address our world and one another with gentleness, justice, and love. I ask that you select a flower–different from the one you brought–that particularly appeals to you.
As you take your chosen flower or piece of greenery – notice its particular shape and beauty. It is a gift that someone else has brought to you – indeed an embodiment of love. As the music plays, please come and share quietly in this Unitarian Universalist ritual of oneness and love.
(Music Plays while members and friends come forward)
And now let us raise our voices in celebration by singing Hymn number 61!
Lo the Earth AwakesAgain!
© 2005 Jane A. Page, Statesboro, GA.
All rights reserved.