Hallelujah Sunday – Easter Message
April 8, 2007
Our home has been blessed this past holy week with the laughter of children. It just so happened this year that my partner Greg’s two kids had their Spring break the same week as the Spring break for the schools here in Statesboro. So as I typed these words, I heard the voices of four children (his two children and my two grandchildren) in the kitchen eating Pepperoni Pizza.
I had taken it out of the oven a little earlier and then decided to take a break from my reading and preparing to cut it into pieces for the kids. As I entered the kitchen, I felt something touch my leg. I looked down and saw a piece of thread stung from a handle on a cabinet to a leg of a chair. When I surveyed the kitchen, I realized that it was a complete web of strings going back and forth. The children howled as I tried to make my way through the maze of strings without breaking them. And I had that awesome feeling that one has when you actually feel like a kid again. It was that kind of giddy happy feeling that needs no artificial stimulant. If you COULD bottle that stuff, though, I think it could be appropriately called, Easter Tonic. Easter is all about renewal, rejuvenation, revitalization, resurrection– new life, Spring, fertility, and a time for focusing on new growth and development.
And so it is that we are also celebrating today our renewal and commitment to this congregation through the returning of our pledge cards and surveys indicating our interests and willingness to work together for this community of Unitarian Universalists. And we are ALL into renewal, rejuvenation, revitalization, and even new growth and development. So my initial plan was to focus on those rather than the resurrection this year. But then I thought that I had lost the sermon that I had been working on. I thought that my computer couldn’t recover it. I thought it was dead. And I longed for resurrection. After all, it WAS an Easter Sermon! I also remembered that in my sermon “Can You Say Resurrection?” – that I did last week in Valdosta, I had emphasized that for there to be resurrection, something must die. So I let my old sermon die and started on a new one – about – what else – resurrection. Then LOW and BEHOLD, a miracle happened. Tuesday night, AFTER I completed my first draft of the sermon, I found the sermon that I thought was dead. I guess it was just hibernating. So I’ve ended up with a little of both. In any case, the loss did encourage me to focus more on death and resurrection. Because that’s what happens in the natural world.
Things DIE – and other things come to life in their place. The only Life after Death is new life! But for some reason, we all seem to want to hang on to the old and familiar. And most resurrection stories give some hope for that. Now you notice I said “resurrection stories” – not “story.”
That’s because the Easter story of death and resurrection is deeply rooted in much older mythology. Rev. John Crestwell, minister of the Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church has done a good job of summarizing some of these myths. He said that one of the earliest stories comes from Egypt. It’s the story of Isis and Osiris. Listen and see if you can find some common themes with the Easter story.
Isis was the goddess of love who married the god of fertility, Osiris. His brother Set is jealous (just like in the story of Cain and Abel) and, as the story goes, Set kills Osiris, cuts his body into many pieces, and puts the pieces over many different parts of the world. Isis persistently searches for her husband and finds the pieces of him over time; and because of her amazing love and power, she magically puts him back together and then breathes the breath of life back into his corpse. Osiris and Isis immediately procreate and give birth to Horus who would later slay Set. Today, Isis is still known as the goddess of love. Osiris is still referred to as the god of fertility but also the god of the underworld who “defeated death” and has power over death. Horus would become known as the god of the living and Set, the god of evil and later Set becomes the mythological Satan in the Hebrew Scriptures.
If you’ve listened, you’ve heard the familiar themes. There is a story of life that is defeated by evil in the world – then a great love brings back life again – rebirth or resurrection. This old story has impacted many of the future myths in western culture. For example, in Europe there are statues honoring Isis and her baby Horus that many thought were statues of the Mary and the baby Jesus. And this life-death- resurrection story appears again in Greek mythology, hundreds of years before Jesus was born.
For example, there was Dionysus who was a human god born through immaculate conception by the high god Zeus. Like the Egyptian God Osiris, Dionysus was the god of fertility. And he was also the god of bread and wine who had the power to raise the dead – just like Osiris and Jesus.
In the story, Dionysus travels the land telling people he is a god only to be mocked and crucified over and over. Strangely enough each time he is killed he is brought back to life. As a result he becomes known as the dying and resurrected god of fertility or god of the vine.
Dionysus loved a good glass of wine. Now some of us plan to honor Dionysus in a special ritual this past Friday the 13th at 5:30. Well, at least we’ll pay homage to his favorite beverage when we meet for our congregational social gathering at the local winery. Join us if you can.
And so, what is Osiris in Egypt becomes Dionysus in Greece, which becomes Attis in Asia Minor, and Adonis in Syria, and Bacchus in Italy, and Mithras in Persia, and Jesus in Jerusalem, and so on and so forth… Many cultures had their dying and resurrected saviors who had power over death.
The one that Christianity most resembles is the story of Mithras, originally from Persia and later popular in Rome. Here are some of the similarities pointed out in a book called The Christ Conspiracy by Achara S.
- Mithra was born of a virgin on December 25th in a cave, and his birth was attended by shepherds.
- He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
- He had 12 companions or disciples.
- Mithra’s followers were promised immortality.
- He performed miracles.
- As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
- He was buried in a tomb and after three days rose again.
- His resurrection was celebrated every year.
- He was called “the Good Shepherd” and identified with both the Lamb and the Lion.
- He was considered the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” and the “Logos,” “Redeemer,” “Savior” and “Messiah.”
- His sacred day was Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
- Mithra had his principal festival of what was later to become Easter.
- His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper,” at which Mithra said, “He who shall not eat of my body nor drink of my blood so that he may be one with me and I with him, shall not be saved.”
- “His annual sacrifice is the passover of the Magi, a symbolical atonement or pledge of moral and physical regeneration.”
- Biblical Scholar Shmuel Golding is quoted as saying that 1 Cor. 10:4 is “identical words to those found in the Mithraic scriptures, except that the name Mithra is used instead of Christ.”
(And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.)
- The Catholic Encyclopedia is quoted as saying that Mithraic services were conduced by “fathers” and that the “chief of the fathers, a sort of pope, who always lived at Rome, was called ‘Pater Patratus.'”
Now there has been a lot of Christian backlash regarding many of these comparisons and we must acknowledge that many of these findings are conclusions drawn from art, pieces of literature, and archeological evidence that is not always entirely conclusive with simple explanations. But thereis enough evidence for most scholars to acknowledge that there are great similarities between the Christian story, including the resurrection, to call into question the originality and accuracy of the Gospel story.
One scholar shows how many of them connect to the SUN and it’s movements through the sky suggesting that they all of these middle eastern religions evolved from a worship of the Sun itself – which of course, does seem to resurrect each morning after dying each evening.
And that brings us back to nature itself – a central aspect of the Easter rituals that were prominent in Europe before Christianity. Easter is, of course, a transliterated word for a European goddess of fertility or goddess of spring. This is the season of transformation, of change from what appears dead to the warmth and vitality of spring. We again see the theme of life, death, and renewal. What is it about this process that is so important that we come to include it in our myths and religions?
Crestwell provides this explanation:
Perhaps the idea comes to us naturally and biologically. We live on an ever changing planet. Gaia, mother earth, is giving birth, and then shedding her skin, in a sense—dying and being reborn—everyday, every year, every second… We watch the seasons change—the flowers come and go. We can look at BUG and animal life and we can look at our own lives and see the change process over and over and over—it is continuous… The process communicates to us intuitively that life is cyclical and ongoing—seemingly eternal (the process)… Perhaps our mythologies are a natural extension of our oneness with this planet. Life—death—and resurrection is exactly what happens to the earth and to us. We are homoousian (of the same substance) as mother earth. Perhaps humans are structured out to naturally to follow the self-regulatory processes of Gaia and our mythologies help us deal with the process and in fact have developed as a result of the process?
Perhaps our mythologies are there to help us let go of the old, so that new life can come forth. And if this is the case, we can look to that Christian Easter story – for one more bit of wisdom. It seems that Jesus himself didn’t want to let go. He pled with his heavenly Father to let the cup pass from him. But he also said, “not my will but thine.” My own theology doesn’t include a heavenly Father. But it does include a world of nature which by follows a rhythm in which the old die and new life comes. And sometimes I have to let go. I have to say, “Not my will – but thine.” In an earlier sermon that I’ve done about the resurrection, I shared how I had to let my identity as a married woman die back in 1998, so that Easter would come for me. (I also had to let go of a lot of emotional baggage that was connected to that relationship.) And more recently, I’ve also had to let go of my long time identity as a college professor and teacher, so that I could be here in this pulpit today. I let go of my dad last September and since that time have had a new a deeper relationship with my brother who has become the main Altman man in my life. Sometimes when some aspect of our life or in our life dies, it’s not easy to see how new life will come. We grieve what is lost – and rightly so. But still we need to let it go.
The poet Mary Oliver wrote:
To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
Do you have aspects of your own life that need to die? Do you need to let go of something? It’s okay, you can let it go.
The Easter story in all of it’s forms – both supernatural and natural, has the promise of new life. We just have to be ready and willing to let the old go.
And when my own life is near it’s end, I do so hope that I’m ready to let it go as well. Not that I – Jane Page – will resurrect. But there will be new life – and hopefully my having been here will provide some preparation for it. That’s one reason this fellowship is so important to me. I come here and get a good dose of that Easter Tonic that I talked about at the beginning of this sermon. I’m renewed and rejuvenated to work hard to serve others in this world. I hope you will all come often for that wonderful renewal and blessing. This fellowship can help us as we do let go of the aspects of our lives that need to die and as we are renewed to prepare for the new life that comes.
And Easter will come, again and again! Hallelujah, Blessed Be and Amen!
Copyright 2007; Jane A. Page