DON MURRAY, Spiritual Seekers
It’s a high point of the year. We thought that this year it might never happen; but finally it did.
On a clear, warm, Monday morning we awoke to the sound of waves lapping on the lakeshore. The ice was gone, and the gentle breeze brought the water’s peaceful rhythm to our welcoming ears. Within a few days the plaintive cry of the loon echoed across the water.
Whatever the date, the return of the sparkle of sun on the water marks for us the annual awakening of the earth. We marvel at this annual resurrection of nature.
It is not by chance that Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the spring. It is another dimension of the resurrection of the northern hemisphere of the earth. Interesting that Easter is not a fixed date, since if we knew the year of Jesus’ death we would know the exact date. But Easter is a ‘moveable feast.’ It is tied to the rhythms of the earth and moon. Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon following the spring equinox. (It’s actually a little more complicated than that since the equinox dates were estimated by the early church and are now a few days out.)
It is much easier for many to connect with the resurrection of nature than the resurrection of Jesus. Easter bunnies and eggs are much more popular than references to Jesus’ resurrection. Most children gleefully participate in the annual egg hunt. It is now a general secular ritual celebrating of the coming of spring. Much harder to help children to connect with the resurrection of Jesus.
That could be because it is difficult for we older folk to understand the resurrection with our minds and hearts. It is easy for us to go along with Jesus’ disciples in writing off the first reports of an empty tomb as “idle tales.” The coming back to life of a dead body doesn’t seem to make much sense. And many can no longer relate to Jesus’ resurrection being a supernatural act of a supernatural God, which somehow brings us salvation and guarantees we will get to heaven when we die. Ever since early Christianity that was the commonly held belief, and is still an assuring belief for many. However, to many in our day, including me, it fails to fit with our way of seeing things.
The empty tomb stands as a central image of the resurrection. All the gospels recount the story. It is worth noting that with each gospel it grows with the telling. Mark says: “a young man dressed in white.” Luke says: “Two men in dazzling garments.” Matthew says: “An angel of the Lord, (whose) appearance was like lightening and his clothing white as snow.” John says: “Two angels in white.”
Paul, interestingly, makes no mention of an empty tomb, although he affirms that Jesus, following his death, appeared to many and also to him. Many scholars believe that the empty-tomb story was evolved later to give credence to Jesus’ resurrection.
It would, however, be a serious mistake to write of these early attempts to explain Jesus’ resurrection as mere figments of the early Christian’s imagination. Something powerful and profound must have happened following Jesus’ death. Numerous among those close to Jesus had a life-transforming experience of Jesus being with them. This was so powerful that sometimes they actually saw him. It is the experience that gave rise to the stories that try to explain it.
This is not a supernatural happening. There are many accounts of people actually seeing a loved one who has died, and more reports of feeling the presence of someone close. That a person of Jesus’ quality and personal power could appear following his death, and the energy and spirit of his life give new life and vision to his followers, is a classic example of how the psyche operates. It happens to most of us, one way or another.
Enjoy the resurrection of nature. And be nourished by the spiritual presence of those who have been near to us, including Jesus. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses ... let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Don Murray is a retired united church minister. He lives in Shortts Lake.