Though Easter is a specifically Christian holiday, its theme of resurrection is one that resonates across many different faith traditions. In The Power of Myth, anthropologist Joseph Campbell points out that many cultures and traditions across the globe tell stories with similar themes. Resurrection, the idea that from death there is rebirth, new life, is among the most prevalent of those themes.
When Campbell talked about myth, he was not talking about fantasy stories that are clearly untrue or even impossible. Campbell spoke of myth as underlying truths about humanity, our relationships with one another and the world, and our experiences of the holy, whether holy is experienced through gods, goddesses, community, the earth or self. While mythological stories may feature unusual characters or seemingly impossible events, the narration embodies a truth that transcends the details of scientific fact. Our contemporary knowledge often gets in the way of apprehending this type of truth on a spiritual and emotional level. Rebirth, new life, new beginnings, resurrection is truth that we need as humans, and has recurred as such in narrations written throughout history.
In 1500 BCE, Maat, an Egyptian goddess, judged her peoples fitness for the afterlife with a feather of truth and justice. If someones heart was free of sin, it would weigh less than this feather and would qualify that person for everlasting life. In 1200 BCE, the Zoroastrian community developed the concept of physical resurrection. They believed that the material world would be perfected at the end time, an idea that ultimately influenced Jewish and Christian thought. In the early non-Christian Norse worldview, the afterlife, Valhalla, was fit only for warriors who died in battle. In the Jewish development of thought about resurrection, Maimonides (1200 AD) wrote that believers could expect only a spiritual resurrection until a future miracle would raise them physically, to experience life after death in companionship with their God Yahweh.
In the context of the Christian Church, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, on the third day after his death, is celebrated on Easter Sunday. Easter is a word that is not included in the Bible, yet it names the most important event that defines the church, the resurrection of Jesus as the Savior, Jesus as the vehicle to salvation. In addition to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians also celebrate the promise that they will also share in a similar resurrection, not because they pass a test of a sin-free heart or might attain perfection through their work or self-sacrifice, but because their savior vanquished death on the cross of his crucifixion and sacrifice. For Christians, this tells a truth about who God is, about Gods compassion, and about Gods preference for life over death, order over chaos, creativity over stasis, hopefulness over fear.
Christians believe that the universe also will be resurrected on the last day, that Christ will reconcile the world with God, providing new life everlasting.
Easter Sunday, the primary holy day in the seasons of the Christian church, is predicated on the lunar calendar and the coming of spring. It occurs on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox. As the old moon wanes and the new moon waxes, a rebirth is celebrated.
Here in the Upper Delaware River Valley, we see the old death of winter pass away and the green shoots of spring come forth; new life is afoot. As we shed our layers of protective gear, as we watch the melting waters flow toward the sea, as we smell the mud on the banks of the river, we experience stories of resurrection. No matter what our faith tradition or culture, we are likely to hear a refrain of truth when we are willing to be in conversation with stories of resurrection, with others who are on the path of life and death and life, and with our environment. We are likely to experience the holy in our present lives when we are willing to look with others at the theme of resurrection and know that we are indeed a part of eternity, even now.
Betsy Diver is pastor of St. Peters Lutheran Church in Port Jervis, NY.
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The letter The missing dimension in the March 29 issue of The River Reporter asks the dumb question, Where was Noel van Swol?
Everyone knows that for seven years Mr. van Swol was the taxpayers watchdog at almost every Sullivan West board meeting, warning of the mismanagement and impending collapse of our school district and uncovering and spelling out exactly what was going wrong when no one else cared.
Since taking office in July, Mr. van Swol has been at all the Sullivan West board meetings, budget workshops, executive sessions and committee meetings, working late into the night with the new board to dig us out of this mess.
The real question is, where were Sullivan West board member Rick Lander and former Sullivan West board president Richard Sandler while Sullivan West crashed and burned financially?