It’s Spring and the Easter season. The name “easter” is derived from the German “ostern” (meaning east), and Eastre, meaning “dawn goddess” who was honored with a vernal fertility festival. When the Germanic tribes were Christianized, Eastre merged with the Spring Christian Paschal celebrations which are about the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s some of the history. I believe we celebrate Easter in part because we recognize that life springs from the dead of winter.
In our gardens the winter claimed a few plants that died back into the ground. Some will decompose, returning nourishment to the soil, but a few of them have green shoots coming from deep within the plant’s dead stalks. Roots buried deep held life throughout this winter season, demonstrating that all living things have an embedded awareness about when it is time for death and for rebirth.
A Unitarian poet, Lynn Unger, writes:
Even the onions in the pantry
Know it’s spring. There in the dark
They are reaching pale green fingers toward the sky.
Onions know what it means
To feel life stirring underneath
Your dry and cracking skin…
Spring is coming! How could
an onion [tell a] lie? Witness
the faith of potatoes
who keep their silent vigil
with ever-growing eyes.
And in the words of perhaps the greatest modern Unitarian poet, ee cummings:
I thank You God for most this amazing day
I who have died am alive again today.
Robert Ingersoll was a 19th century American atheist. He wrote very profoundly about our Easter hope in this sentence, “Immortality is the word that Hope has whispered to Love throughout the centuries.” The word that Hope has whispered to Love. The desire for immortality is one of the things love can do to death.
Jesus wins immortality by being loved—he is very often shown eating and drinking and having fun in bringing people together in a radical inclusiveness—and admired for his teachings and his life. Jesus preaches change and a social gospel. He finds the old forms of religion stultifying and wants us to be more alive: “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) In other words that we might be more alive than we are, that we might come fully alive. The changes we would have to make to become more alive might involve elevating realities some call spiritual, such as love and justice, to a higher level of our daily thinking and living, because “we cannot live by bread alone.” (Matthew 4:4)
Jesus’s words and actions about an abundant life can be contrasted to Thoreau’s oft-quoted ones: “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation.” It is clear that Jesus understands human beings to be more alive on some days than others, and almost surely that is experientially true for most of us. When we are happy about something, we may not know what to say except, I am high on life or I’m having a good day. When this happens to me, something happens to my face, in my eyes, as people tell me. Walking through HEB people smile at me even though we have never met and are only passersby. And I feel more connected; the root of the word religion “religio” means “to bind together, to connect.” And somehow a religious experience reveals the bonds that tie us together.
The book Staring into the Sun by Jungian analyst Irvin Yalom explores the fear of death and how it motivates living people. One powerful principle is “the more unlived your life, the greater power your death anxiety.” Hence, our take-away is to let your life consume you, so that at your death there’ll be little for it to take. The dead would urge us to live fully until we die! And death is no reason to despair–to the contrary, sail on! A ship anchored in the harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is for. There is more to human existence than mere existence.
What I have to say to us this Spring and Easter season is to remind us of our own many rebirth experiences, and exhort us to come alive by keeping our attention and life’s energies focused on what we love.
Especially for those of you who attended our March 19th Sunday Service, “Celebrating Spring Equinox”, I’d like to acknowledge an oversight on my part in failing to attribute several quotes in my sermon that were written by the poet David Whyte in his book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Spiritual Pilgrimage. They follow:
“Our relationship to time has become corrupted exactly because we allow ourselves very little experience of the timeless. We speak of saving time, yet time in its richest is most often lost to ourselves when we are busy without relief. At speed, the world is a blur, and all the other lives we encounter become a blur, too.”
“…the seasons of the year: not as discrete, quantifiable lines drawn across our experiences, but as an advancing quality, a presence and emergence of something growing inside us that can be transformed into something overflowing into the outer world…a season is not a visitation whose return is always assured. Every spring following a long winter seems as magical as if we are seeing it for the first time. Out of the ostensibly dead garden rises from the rested and nurtured roots and seeds an abundance beyond the winter eye’s comprehension.
With love and respect,