Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Happy Easter everybody! In keeping with our annual Easter tradition in The Virtual Chapel, the article today is a community project. I made a post in the Facebook group inviting people to reflect upon these two questions:
What Easter/Lent traditions are meaningful to you and your family/faith community?
How do the symbols of death and resurrection speak to your spiritual experience?
I then copy and pasted all of the responses into a Google Doc and edited them together into three sections. The first section is poetry, the second is theology, and the third is about Easter traditions. None of my own words were included in the article, though my voice can still be found in the way it is all brought together.
Because this article speaks with many voices, it is, in a certain sense, the voice of our community. I think that it shows what a deeply beautiful community we have. It also shows the magnificent diversity in thought and belief which are able to exist in harmony with one another. If you would like to read our previous years’ Easter articles, you can find them HERE and HERE.
here again at the end of no end where soul and surrender meet everything sacred is lost and found again for love has no death God beckons me to let go of everything — even God and that is how I know I am free
Inspired by St. John Chrysostom’s Easter Homily
On this sun-rising, jasmine-scented morning Summoning bells call the dead alive; In mimosa-fragrant groves Gnarled olive trees spit Defiance in the face of death. He has come Emergent from the stone-girt tomb Face blazing in life’s transcendence. He melted all the chains In his victory’s fiery furnace. He is the limitless energy Unbounded power raised up The one who makes the desert give forth The cedar and acacia He lifts up The despairing and doubting Black-clad mourners He pulls them to their feet. The limping regain their strength The blind are given sight They follow behind him In footsteps of fire Subjects of the eternal kingdom Forever established upon the earth.
What if the Orthodox Christians are right? What if the “harrowing of Hades/Hell” happened? What if what the contemporary Western church thinks defines Hell is an empty, and now, irrelevant place? How would it change our beliefs and behaviors? Would we change our perspective about ‘salvation’ – getting that golden ticket to Heaven and, perhaps instead, focus on the Kingdom/Kin-dom of God in the here and now?
I would like to think that we might. I would like to think that every day – not just on Easter or other “Holy” days, we would go through our lives being a resurrection. Being life to ourselves and to each other. Showing compassion, inclusion and non-judgement to a world that needs that example now more than anything. In a world of battling opinions and positions let our actions speak for us. Let love shown through interdependence and justice be the resurrection that the world needs.
Only recently did it click that the passion and resurrection narrative were manuals, not just backstory. A relative argued that Jesus’ most challenging words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” were mistranslated, as their pastor refused to accept that weakness in their savior. As I read through Psalm 22 though, it dawned on me that this absence and pain sounded very familiar… it was the Dark Night of the Soul of the mystics.
Jesus was modeling this stage, just before the death of self, when the deconstruction of the God-idea takes place, and an overwhelming sense of absence and depravity purges all those constructs that we thought were God. Resurrection was not merely comfort for fears of physical death, it was a living rebirth into the life of the Spirit untethered by the attachments of the mind and flesh.
My approach to Christ is that it is more on a level of consciousness, and in particular, the embodiment of Divine Love. The notion of death for me indicates the shedding of old ego thoughts and patterns of being that block us from a deep and intimate relationship with this Divine Love. In story form and as a human, Christ had to die to shed this part of himself to rise as his true Self where he fully merged with what you call God, Source, Universe, etc.
Christ led the way for us as a human and invites us to similarly shed anything and everything that blocks us from truly stepping into our Divine Loving nature. Each time we engage in the process of shedding, we ourselves come closer and closer to this merging. I don’t usually use the term death, I use transition. The Easter Lily, to me, is the sign of the new journey beginning, the signpost for the newly transitioned to indicate the direction to be taken. The soul, being immortal, immediately connects with our Creator and those souls already on their next journey.
As an Episcopal priest I found grounding and renewal in Holy Week, Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. It seemed draining to me, hectic and with careful folk ritual, nevertheless, it was nourishing at the same time if I let the various liturgies speak. It was best if folks got to share with each other. We thought about things like what would Jesus eat at the Last Supper. Broiled fish, hummus couscous, cinnamon apples, almonds, grapes, goat cheese, etc. Stuff that people imaginatively brought to share in a communal meal away from “the Temple” of the sanctuary, in the church basement hall.
The same space was “Bethany” for Palm Sunday, decorated with a central table as a station, as it were. Indeed, stations of the cross devotionals launched from there and Tenebrae rites would end there. At the communal meal the foot washing rites took place and once finished everyone processed to a formal “high church” eucharist. The eucharist abruptly ended with the rite of stripping of the altar removing all the trappings. We recited some of the same Psalms as in Tenebrae, removing the reserved sacrament to a place of repose for a vigil through Friday noon.
I love Maundy Thursday (all the more because growing up as a Methodist that is when we got communion), it had a ‘you were there’ experience with which I identified. Good Friday felt mentally compelling and challenging when hearing the seven last words from the cross. Good Friday came to life, as it were, when the Gospel of John was read and then the veneration of the cross where one is prostrate, kneeling, chanting, then creeping toward the cross for another round of prostration, kneeling and chanting, to end up touching the cross so that it could touch me. The whole sanctuary was starkly bare except for the empty cross, and I marveled at the emotional expanse and depth in these rites, how ancient the texts and practices were, which I didn’t experience earlier in my life. I was caught up in the mystical dimensions of Holy Spirit baptism. Now in my old age, I crave the stillness of the eve and day of Holy Saturday. My spiritual development in some ways has been anchored in Holy Week as I moved through intellectual and mental, embodied emotional in a sacramental context, as well as mystical and communal connections. Christos annesti, aleithos annesti!
My most memorable Easter was the morning I visited the sunrise service of a neighboring church many years ago. A beautiful, sacred moment….that I relive in memory. Somehow it seems fitting that I only experienced it once, just as Jesus only experienced resurrection one time. We made emotional connections that way – linking thoughts of the resurrection with the warm fuzzies. Not bad.
I saw an Easter sunrise service at a lake near where I now live, while I was camping up this way many years ago. At the time I did not understand what I was seeing. All I knew -intuitively, not by actual knowledge- was that it was some kind of sacred moment and that I was very drawn to it. Now, many years later, I believe my current life and path -and even my current choice for where I now call home- were in no small part shaped by that moment many years ago.
At the opening of our three hour meditation on the cross service on Good Friday, three ministers wearing black cassocks prostrated themselves flat on the chancel floor in front of the Lord’s table for about two minutes. The first time I experienced this ritual I found myself deeply moved, nearly crying. I had been a practicing Christian for many years, but this was new to me. One temptation for me was to google what this meant, but another part of me prevailed: to allow myself to somehow participate in this profound moment and its mystery. It helps me to stay with the idea that I will never fully grasp the meaning of the crucifixion, but rather I just need to sit in the mystery of the intermingled love and pain and respond.
Holy Thursday changed radically for me in recent times, reframing the ritual that puzzled me the most… the washing of feet. I was considering wine as Eucharist, and what it held in common with bread… fermentation, a seemingly divine transformation at the time I’m sure. That brought me to reading about an excavation in Jerusalem of an ancient winemaking site that likely produced wine for the temple. What gave it away as producing sacred wine? The chamber for the ritual washing of feet before the grapes were pressed underfoot. I thought “what”?
That wasn’t the end. I read a bit more on the process. The experts believe the grape must, as it poured from vat, was strained through a tangle of branches, most often thorns. When the sweet must was put into jars, it was placed in a dark chamber to ferment, to transform into wine for, you guessed it, about three days.
The passion and resurrection were in the symbolic language of holy winemaking, foreshadowed by the first miracle at Cana, Moses’ planting of vines, the vineyard in Isaiah, the language of the Greek and Roman mystery cults of Dionysius and Bacchus.
These were symbols of divine transformation writ large for Jew, Greek and Roman alike. All were invited to the wedding feast where the resurrected Christ was himself, the good wine that was served to the guests.
I will be spending a lot more time with the winemaker’s symbols in the scriptures, but to start, we’ll be adding a bottle or two of red to our Easter dinner going forward. As the kids get a little older, I’ll be telling them about how wine was made in Biblical times, and that, I suppose, would be a new tradition.
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