It’s probably because my grandparents were morticians, but the idea of a body getting up at Easter has never been particularly inspiring to me. I much prefer to believe that the disciples discovered something bigger than a resuscitated cadaver at Easter. I want to believe they experienced the secret of life itself.
By getting hung up on the details of the story we can easily miss the whole point of the Easter narrative. The stories of religion are not records of particular miracles, but are symbolic illustrations of the mysterious principles that give us life and being. Biblical stories illustrate the mysterious lattice work of intelligence which is invisible to our dim senses but which underlies our very existence.
In the Christmas story, a child is born in the bleak midwinter. This image remind us that the light of life shines out of what seems like dark emptiness. The point of the symbol is to remind us that painful or lonely events are still important parts of our larger life.
Easter is Christianity’s version of a story found all over the world where a beloved child is taken from a loving parent and carried to the underworld. The story was told at the vernal equinox (beginning of spring) so people could remember, even as they celebrated the beauty of spring, that everything will be given back to the one larger life.
I realize that many people become religious so they won’t have to think this deeply about life. Some people get so wounded or frightened by life that they just want to be reassured. But closing our eyes to reality will not comfort us for long. At some point, we must turn to face our own mortality. When we die, our bodies will not get up again, they will be recycled. Our only honest consolation at that point is to love the whole circle of life. Our true happiness is the common happiness.
I believe that the “Christ” people experienced at Easter was not a walking cadaver. I believe the resurrection stories illustrate a more universal truth. The spirit of life the disciples first saw in Jesus, they now saw in each other. “Resurrection” is awakening to our common life. Easter is not the property of one sectarian religion. When the risen Christ calls us, we are not being called to the Christian Church, but to the one life of us all.
This article was originally printed in the St. Andrew’s Newsletter April, 2009
Jim Rigby is a Presbyterian Minister at St. Andrews Church in Austin Texas. In 2007, Jim was named “Texas Public Citizen of the Year” by National Association of Social Workers for his work on gender, economic, and racial issues. Jim has written for Huffington Post, Common Dreams, and many other sites, and his focus is on creating a deeper discussion of the relationship between religion and politics. Is it possible to affirm our different religious (and nonreligious) worldviews in ways that do not lead to intolerance and oppression, or does religion lead inevitably to superstition and sectarian violence? Can we affirm the core values of our own group, and yet, still be good citizens of the world? It is an open question. Jim argues that it is possible, if all religions are willing to go through radical reformations to allign themselves to the best science available, to learn to honor artistic expression however different, and to serve universal human rights.