A Celtic View of Easter

So today I would like to share with you some ideas about Easter from a medieval Irish text called The Evernew Tongue. It was written in Irish around the ninth or tenth century. It was very popular at the time and several manuscripts containing the text survive to today. It is one of the texts included in my book Psalter of the Birds. This text is originally written as prose but I have arranged into poetry so that it can be chanted with the other texts in the psalter. Only the structure of the text has been changed, not the meaning.

To start with, I’ll tell you just a little bit about the text as a whole. It has a lot of stuff in it, so I’ll only be able to touch on a few themes today. The Evernew Tongue is what is known as an apocryphal text. That means that it tells a story about characters from the bible, but isn’t actually included in the bible itself. This story is about the Apostle Philip.

Philip is given the name The Evernew Tongue because as he was preaching the gospel some unnamed people who wanted to prevent the spread of Christianity kept cutting out his tongue. They figured that if he didn’t have a tongue anymore he couldn’t keep preaching. But everytime they cut out his tongue it would just grow back and he would continue preaching despite them. They say that his tongue was cut out nine times before they stopped trying. 

In this story The Evernew Tongue, who I will simply refer to as Philip moving forward, comes to a group of Hebrew elders and sages on the Eve of Easter morning to teach them about the profound reality of the resurrection and how it is the foundation of the entire universe.

Perhaps it is fitting that every time they cut out his tongue it grew back again, because it represents the way in which the new always comes to replace the old. One of the things which Philip teaches in this text is that Christ’s resurrection from the dead on Easter is what made it possible for the world to be created. He said,

This is what has driven me to you
	To explain to you the wondrous tale 
Which the Holy Spirit declared 
       Through Moses son of Amram

Of the creation of heaven and earth
	With all that exists therein
For it is the story of the making 
        Of heaven and earth that the tale tells 

As well as the formation of the world
        Which was made possible 
By Christ’s resurrection from the dead 
        On this day of Easter Eve

At first it seems an impossible timeline that the resurrection on Easter is what makes creation itself possible. Surely, the universe already existed before Christ was born and died, living a human life among us. The fact that this doesn’t line up tells us that the author has something else in mind. Something which is not limited by our understanding of time.

God, of course, is beyond time. To be beyond time means that the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. Yesterday is just as real as today for God, and so is tomorrow.

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was a temporal expression of an eternal reality. What I mean is that death and resurrection are part of Christ’s nature. The same Christ in whom, through whom, and for whom the world was made. The historical resurrection on the original Easter eve was an expression of who and what Christ is in his divine nature.

That’s why in the quote above Philip says that he is going to use the story of Easter to explain the creation account in Genesis. Since Jesus is the word which God spoke in the beginning, everything which God made has the principle of death and resurrection built into it.

In this next quote I want to share with you, Philip is talking about how people knew about the cosmic principle of death and resurrection before Christ, but that they didn’t know who caused it. In reference to the shape and form of the universe Philip says,

Not knowing who had created it
        Until this account came from heaven
To open everyone’s sense and intellect
        So that the way of life and salvation
Might be ascertained and found by souls
        For the truth of everything 
Was obscure to the eye’s of Adam’s race
	Save that they saw the course of the stars

The moon and sun and other stars
	Which go round every day without resting
And they also they saw the world’s wells
	And rivers flowing without ceasing at every time

And they saw the sadness of the earth
	And the trance and sleep of the light
And the fruits at the coming of winter
        So they saw the resurrection of the world

With its warmth and its light
        With its flowers and fruits
At the reawakening of summer
        Still they did not know who caused it

The pattern of death and resurrection can be seen so beautifully in the changing of the seasons. We do not celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the spring time because Christ is a symbol for the natural order. Rather, the spring time resurrects into new life precisely because it is a symbol for the eternal reality of God.

When you see the grass bursting forth from the mud and dead leaves, that is quite literally Christ. When you smell the flowers pouring out from the trees, that is Christ too. When you feel the warmth of the morning sun on your face, that is none other than Christ himself. 

Not only does the resurrection of Christ show itself in the coming of spring but it can also be seen in the sacrament of baptism. Easter has always been a traditional time to perform baptism. In Romans 6, Paul describes baptism as a participation in the eternal resurrection. 

It is not only something which happened at a particular moment in history, but it is also a reality which we all participate in. That’s why Paul said, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Death and resurrection is the pattern we all follow. For Paul, the death which we participate in is the death of the old self. This is why he says that whoever has died is free from sin. Our spiritual death is a setting free of our new self. As Christ himself said, we are like a seed which must fall to the ground and die so that we may grow into something new. A seed can remain a seed forever. But until it dies it will never become what it was destined to be. 

If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. The seed which has fallen to the ground and died emerges as something magnificently more. The death Christ died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So we also must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

The resurrection of Christ is what makes it possible for us to live into our new selves. It is what makes it possible for spring to arise out of the tomb of winter. It exists eternally in every moment and is the foundation of all the beautiful creation we are surrounded by. Therefore, we should not fear death. The promise of resurrection is an eternal truth, one which is so much more than us and yet touches us in the most personal way. 

It is an eternal truth which we have access to, which we can participate in. The choice to remain a seed is yours to make, so is the choice to pick up your cross and follow Christ to calvary. Those who would choose to save their lives will lose them instead, but those who choose to let go of their old self, who they have always been and who they are comfortable being, will be given the eternal life of Christ. 

The eternal principle of resurrection is the free gift of God. It can be found in any land. It can be accessed by any person. We live in a world which operates on the principle of death and resurrection. We can see it with every passing generation, how the faces of our ancestors emerge in the faces of our grandchildren. We are part of the circle of life and we participate in the pattern by necessity. The choice is ours whether we want to embrace that reality or not. 

If we cling too tightly to our old selves, or our old traditions, then we cannot be reborn. If we are not willing to die then we will never truly live. God has made the world in such a way that everything has its time. We come into being and we pass away. The gospel teaches us that this is not in vain. Death and resurrection are the means by which God creates, and what is worth keeping from the old can always be carried into the new.

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