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Easter and Death

“The purpose of life is to die before you die, and discover that there is no death.” -Eckhart Tolle

I don’t like Easter. We’ve made it the worst of the Christian holidays.

The loudest voices – the fundamentalists – tell us Easter is celebrating the day Jesus actually rose from the dead, later appearing in bodily form to lots of people before ascending into heaven. They might also tell us that we’ll have everlasting life in heaven with Jesus. All of that is silly.

Our church treads a finer line. We don’t say Jesus’s resurrection isn’t literally true (probably because that would alienate too many people), but we don’t talk about it literally. Our minister this Easter gave a sermon talking about how the good news of Jesus isn’t over, that we can find the risen Christ in our own lives, and that he lives as a challenge to live differently.

That’s better, but good lord, it’s not good enough! There’s so, so much more!

Father Richard Rohr says all religions in their own way talk about “dying before you die.” Jesus taught it over and over. For example: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain” (John 12:24). And: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matthew 6:25).

What has to die? We’ve been narrowing it down for centuries. Our sons and daughters, for sacrifices; and then animals, for sacrifices; then just heretics, foreigners, the “others”; then any immoral or unfaithful beliefs, ideas or desires; and now, at least among progressives, exclusion and intolerance.

But Easter invites us to a radical new perspective. What has to die? Everything! Our roles, our identities, all of who we believe we are, personally, culturally, socially, even spiritually. It all has to go!

And what waits on the other side? The resurrection! The “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Our True Self, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3-4). Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was that “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (John 17:21). He said “follow me,” and he showed the way. Easter invites us to die to every identification, so that we may strip away our false self and reveal our oneness in the universal Christ consciousness that always already is.

Easter is an invitation, not merely to a belief or a way of living, but to a radical experience of death to the false self and of birth to an entirely new self. It’s time we in the churches start saying so!

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