WHAT EASTER MEANS TO ME
I was trying to think about the after-life the other day. You know, those big questions about heaven, hell, the soul, and all that.
I say I was trying because I rapidly came to the conclusion that I had no idea what I was thinking about.
Really: All my knowledge, as Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas would agree, is bound by the experiences I have had as a living human being. Anything which is not bound up with the sort of thing that is experienced in life is the sort of thing I can’t even imagine. All I know is life.
Yet the funny thing about life is that we also know how limited it is. We know things to be finite and temporary. We are all aware that we must eventually die.
Which brings me to Easter. What is Easter? It is the belief that somehow death isn’t final; indeed, it may only be an illusion. At Easter we speak of death losing its sting. We read of Resurrection. But what is Resurrection? Is it not the assertion that death has a flip-side: Return, rebirth, renewal?
The challenge of Easter is to see how life–Life Itself–is animating everything and runs deep into the very fabric of reality. Life Itself is a divine spark that runs in you and me and everything else. All things have their origin in Life Itself. Life Itself has no opposite. It has no nemesis like Death that can eliminate it; rather, even what looks like death to us will ultimately be transformed by Life Itself into a living victory for all that is good, compassionate and just.
In many religions, Life Itself is called God. This is fine. But we must not think of this God as something entirely separate from the world, especially as separate from human history. Rather, God’s love and compassion run through all things. This is seen in many of the readings at the Easter Vigil: We read first the creation narrative, in which the Spirit of God runs on the waters, animates all things, brings all things into being.
Then we read of an oppressed people, a nation turned into slaves by an arrogant and greedy nation. This may remind us of many structural injustices that still exist today. But again God is active in human history: “Then I will receive glory through Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots and charioteers.”
I was struck in this reading by an unusual piece of imagery: The Egyptians are pursuing the fleeing slaves, and God “clogged their chariot wheels that they could hardly drive.” I thought to myself: This seems like a pretty minimalist effort by God. He could have stopped them in any number of dramatic ways; he could have set them on fire. Instead, he clogs wheels? And clogs them only so that they can “hardly” drive?
Then I realized that clogged wheels are a natural part of life. The freedom of God’s chosen people, their liberation from greed and slavery, comes not in supernatural miracles, but relies entirely on the ordinary facts of life: Clogged wheels.
The divine is in the ordinary.
At Easter we celebrate that Life Itself is bringing all people toward liberation, enveloping us in strange and subtle ways in a freedom from greed, from oppression, from slavery, from arrogance. Our liberation need not come in some dazzling flash of miracles: We can find it in the little things; we can watch as the wheels of injustice become clogged and every minute we move a step closer to a divine freedom.
And the best response is to be grateful for the compassion which animates the universe, which brings life into being, which mutes death in ways we can not understand. We can be grateful in many ways. When we engage spiritual practices we can do so gratefully. When we stand against injustice we act out of gratefulness. The Occupy Movement can be seen as a large-scale act of gratefulness that seeks to bring the freedom of Easter to the whole world.
We can’t understand the after-life, but we can understand this life, and be grateful for it.
Easter, to me, is about the victory of Life Itself, the failure of death, the collapse of injustice, the proliferation of freedom, and gratefulness for the knowledge that Life Itself is begging us all closer and closer. May this gratefulness animate all of our lives.