“Together We Rise” – Easter Reflection 2020
By Reverend Rebecca Bryan
We are not going to survive this, this time, on our own initiative. Quite an Easter message, right?
We need one another to get through, rebound, and ultimately recreate life, however it will be after this pandemic. Of course, we need to be smart and take care of ourselves and our loved ones. And an essential ingredient in that care is also taking care of all sentient beings, especially those most vulnerable among us including African Americans, the homeless, and the elderly.
We are witnessing this kind of universal love and care every day—essential workers putting their lives and the wellbeing of their families on the line for others, and neighbors and strangers helping one another. We are going to come through this together, universally, and Easter has something to teach us about that.
Easter. The resurrection.
There have been many debates and hurt feelings around the resurrection.
Did it happen? How could it have happened? Is it symbolic, and if so what’s the message?
Many people have put those questions to bed a long time ago, declaring the certainty of their answers. I invite you this Easter to consider the issue again, not so much if the resurrection happened, but what its message might be for us today?
To do this, we need to step back in time and look at some historical findings. The image of Jesus resurrected alone, as an individual, comes from Western Christianity. Scholars refer to it as the individual resurrection. This is not the only image of the resurrection, however. There is another image referred to by scholars as the universal resurrection. This image depicts Jesus resurrected not as an individual, but with other people. This is the image I ask you to consider today.
Jesus’ life, from the nativity to the crucifixion, is directly described in the Gospels, but the resurrection is not. It is indirectly described, but that leaves a lot of room for human imagination. The image of Jesus resurrected as an individual, which is presented in Western Christianity, is the earlier image, recorded in the year 400. The universal resurrection, celebrated by Eastern Christianity, became commonplace by 700.
John Dominic Crossan, foremost living scholar on the historical Jesus, writes in his book Resurrecting Easter that all of these images went through their own progression. The images of the individual resurrection evolved from images of Jesus, sitting on his tomb, standing, and finally, resurrected.
My point is not to teach all about history, though I do find it fascinating. It is to ask what are the implications of Eastern Christianity’s focus on universal resurrection for us today? What does it offer us? How does it call us to act?
One place you see images of the universal resurrection is at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, said to be the birthplace of Jesus. There is a shrine within the church dedicated to Jesus’ resurrection. The images show Jesus standing on the broken-down gates to Hades, the underworld, or Hell. The toppled gates are under his feet in the shape of a cross. He is joined in his resurrection by Adam and Eve, Kings Solomon and David, and two martyrs from the New Testament. Crossan writes, “…if Adam and Eve are saved, who is not?”
To the eastern church, Jesus—teacher of accepting all people, of non-violence and of resisting the establishment—wasn’t saved alone; he was saved with humanity. He was resurrected when all of us were resurrected or freed.
Most of us here, regardless of our religious upbringing, were influenced by Western Christianity’s views, including the image of Jesus, man alone, resurrected. What if we were taught that we are saved when all people are saved? This is true whether we are saved from difficult pasts, depression, feelings of isolation, or this pandemic. It is true if we are to find genuine meaning and fulfilment in life. It is certainly in keeping with our Unitarian principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all people and with our Universalist heritage of universal salvation.
What will it take for this whole world, you, and me, to accept that we are unequivocally interconnected? None of us are saved until all of us are saved, safe, and free. That’s what Jesus taught. Community. Equality. Love. Justice, for all.
These are tenuous times, my friends. Things are being asked of us that have never been asked of us before, and we are having to contend with things like nothing we’ve had to contend with before. Our actions matter: upholding social distancing, wearing masks, and honoring our health care workers and others on the front line.
We are being called, Crossan writes, “…to redeem our world and save our earth by transcending the escalatory violence we create as civilizations’ normal trajectory. And the universal resurrection imagery makes it clear that we are all involved in this process.”
As we go forth from here this Easter, may we do so open to new ways of living and understanding. May we understand and believe in shared humanity, the goodness of the Earth, and all that bring us hope. May we live as one, save the earth, and share hope with all around us. And in so doing, may we strive to resurrect our days and our lives universally, together.
Happy Easter! Happy Passover! Happy spring.
Amen and blessed be.
Questions to ponder, discuss and hold…
When has an act of kindness changed your day, or even your life?
What is renewing your spirit these days?
How will you bring joy into the world around you today?