Midweek Faith Lift
April 6, 2022
Clark Ford, Guest Speaker
Happy Spring! We passed the Spring Equinox a couple of weeks ago, and now the first Sunday after the full moon following the Equinox will be Easter. Next Sunday will be Palm Sunday, the celebration of Jesus and his Disciples coming into Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Passover, by the way is always on the full moon that follows the Equinox. In the Hebrew lunar Calendar that is always the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan. On our calendar, this year it is the day before Easter.
So we have a four-day lineup this year of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Jewish Passover and Easter. Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, which was the Passover feast or Seder and thus was likely on the full moon of Nisan 15th that year. Since the Seder was after sunset, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion could have both been on the same date, Nisan 15th. What year was that? By calculations of the moon phases, some scholars have suggested that date in our calendar was April 3, 33 AD. And here we are, almost 2000 years later, celebrating it.
Biblical accounts of the exact dates and what happened at the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection are contradictory and confusing, so I will leave that mystery up to the theologians to figure out. But I would like to take a step back and take a look at what it is we are celebrating in the first place when we celebrate Easter.
In ancient northern hemisphere cultures, the spring equinox signaled the beginning of the year, the beginning of life bursting onto the scene with the warmer weather. For agricultural peoples, and most people for the last 10,000 years have been agricultural, this was a time of planting, of fertility, of activity, growth, renewal, and celebrating life itself and our many blessings. Winter has been survived, and new life is on the way! The name “Easter” is derived from the Goddess of spring, Ostara, whose celebration was the Spring Equinox.
Growing up, I liked the part of Easter that involved the celebration of spring.. The Easter bunny, Easter egg hunts, the flowers, the baskets with jelly beans and chocolate bunnies, peeps, even the fake grass. Easter egg hunts, Easter gatherings with family…
I even enjoyed Easter gatherings and Easter dinners with extended family and the new clothes my parents would buy for us to go to church in. Easter was a big deal!
Less appealing was the idea of a sunrise service in the cold, the cross, the crucifixion, and the whole story of the betrayal, sorrow, torture, death and sacrifice of Jesus. Now I know I’ve left off the part about the Resurrection, which is everyone’s favorite part of the Easter story. Unfortunately, when I was old enough to read, I tried to figure out what was going on Easter morning by reading the Gospels, and got thoroughly confused. Was this not the unalterable word of God? Then how come they couldn’t get the story straight? But never mind. I could take those alternative facts on faith, like many before me have had to.
But wait a minute! We skipped over something. Sacrifice you say? Jesus died as a sacrifice for our sins, like the two lambs that were killed every day as a sacrifice in the Hebrew Temple, as prescribed in the Bible?
Or the annual sacrifice of the Paschal lamb, celebrating the Passover, which as described in Exodus involved the slaughter of a lamb and the marking of each family’s doorpost with its blood?
Jesus came to Jerusalem for Passover. Was Jesus now the Paschal “Lamb of God” who was killed for my sins, for the sins of the world? Sacrificed by his father in the same way that Abraham was asked to sacrifice his first born son, Isaac? At least in that case, he didn’t go through with the sacrifice.
What’s all this blood sacrifice stuff about? What kind of religion is this? Have I just entered the twilight zone? Why would a loving God do that or demand that? What kind of God was this? If this is about sin, what sin?
Now, I know I’m not perfect, but sacrificing animals or humans on my behalf is way beyond the pale for me, and way beyond what I could reasonably comprehend as a child. Surely I heard it wrong. But no, there it is: “The blood of the lamb,” “The blood of the covenant,” all integral parts of Christianity for millions of people. Even a well-known hymn asks “Are You Washed in the Blood?” Why, why, why? So we could go to heaven? It turns out that heaven was not really even a cornerstone of the Jewish faith. But if you’re going to convert people and create empires, it comes in very handy!
As I understood it as a child, all I had to do was believe that I was saved, and voila, I’m saved and will go to heaven. So I don’t really have to change any bad behavior as long as I believe because Jesus has saved me and will forgive me. Yippee! Worked for me, and worked for many emperors. And all of that because of Easter.
Here it is in the Bible, etched in my mind for all time: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
But if there is an afterlife, why would I perish? Oh that’s right: sin. But what about little babies? Have they sinned? Well, this question was answered for many centuries by the doctrine of “Original Sin,” which held that Adam and Eve sinned against God, and since we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, we all are born sinners and therefore need to be saved. Well, baptized first, and then saved. And salvation for humanity came in the form of the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Wow, and I thought horror movies were scary!
Now if you ask theologians, you might not find as many who would agree with the doctrine of “Original Sin” as there once were. But original sin has been a cornerstone of Christian faith for centuries, as articulated in the 4th century by Augustine: that Humanity is fallen, is sinful, and requires redemption. This has been labeled as so-called “Fall/Redemption” theology, and the Christian belief in salvation from sin by the sacrifice of Jesus dying on the cross rests historically on the foundation of Fall/Redemption theology.
Fall/redemption theology is a dualism that puts people in one of two categories: saved or unsaved. This dualism goes hand in hand with other dualisms, like: the divine is either good (God) or evil (Satan). Or, you’re either rational (men) or irrational (women). Or, you’re either with us or against us.
This kind of thinking kept women as second class citizens in the church and in society for centuries, and lent itself to the dominance of patriarchy, and religious wars of conquest. Of course it was all done for the greater glory of a male God! Besides, the conquered could be poor or even enslaved in this lifetime because they would have a rich afterlife in heaven.
So this is what drove and supported Christianity for centuries: Fall/Redemption theology based on Jesus dying for our sins so that we could be saved. And the church had tremendous power because it controlled the gates of heaven.
But wait a minute – is that what Jesus’s life was about? Being a sacrificial lamb so Christian believers could go to heaven? Is that what Christianity is? Many of us do not believe that, but this is how Christianity has been taught to many of us. And if we don’t believe it, are we not Christian?
It turns out that Christianity has had an alternative track all along that is not focused on Fall/Redemption theology, but instead on what many believe Mother and Father God really intended in creating the world: That humans learn Love, Joy, Peace, Beauty, Mysticism, Healing, Justice, Creativity, and Compassion, expressed in art, society, and our every action.
It is not that we are fallen, we are blessed, and our salvation is not about the afterlife but making this life better for all.
This has been called Creation-Centered Spirituality, and holds that humans were created with Original Blessing, not Original Sin. Say what? And this way of thinking has been around since the beginning of Christianity, even the beginning of Judaism, only to be overpowered by Fall/Redemption theology with the rise of Christian empires.
Matthew Fox, a defrocked Dominican Priest (for challenging the doctrine of Original Sin), and now an Episcopal priest, and the founder of the Creation Spirituality University in Oakland, California, has written a book that is almost 40 years old now called “Original Blessing” that has helped transform millions of people’s thinking about Creation-centered Spirituality. This book is almost a seminarian treatise, so I will not attempt to cover all that it says, but it lays out a different way to see creation, God, Jesus, society, and faith in ways that are positive, loving, feminist, life-affirming, and just. The book has some amazing appendices that point out how many important historical religious figures, theologians, and mystics, starting with Jesus Himself, embraced a Creation-Centered Spirituality.
The book follows the four paths of the 13th century German mystic Meister Eckhart.
The first path is the Via Positiva, about befriending creation, seeing God in the created world, embracing beauty, harmony, Ecology, and the blessing of creation. The energy of the Via Positiva is the energy of spring, exulting in the pure joy of life.
The second path is the Via Negativa, which is much like we talked about with the joys of winter. Not being afraid of the dark, of emptiness, of quiet. Letting God in when we make room for Her. Letting go of our ego, letting be, and finding Peace.
The third path is the Via Creativa, which might be analogous to summer. Co-creating with God, birthing the divine. Reaching our true potential as joyful creators of art and life.
The fourth path is the Via Transformativa, which is like fall in this analogy. It brings the via positiva, the via negativa, the via creativa together to create justice, compassion, and an inclusive society that honors all people, genders, and levels of empowerment all over the world.
God and Spirituality are not in a domain that operates outside of politics, as the story of Jesus shows. We must integrate our spirituality with our lives, both personally and in society, even globally. Salvation is not individual; it is about all of us. We are all God’s children, worthy of love, and care, peace, justice, and happiness.
Original Blessing was for me, on my spiritual path, a revelation, and I find its approach very compatible to the teachings of Unity. Whether we believe that Jesus died for our sins or not, whether Jesus resurrected from the dead or not, the idea that God in his and her wisdom created us to receive blessings, experience joy, and love, feel compassion and community is liberating for many of us raised on more patriarchal ideas of sin and salvation. And maybe salvation means more than just going to heaven. Maybe it also means co-creating God’s kingdom on earth.
In closing, I wish you all the joys of this spring season, the celebration of new life, the continuation of life, the resurrection of life, either literally or metaphorically, physically or spiritually. The lesson of spring and the lesson of Easter is that life at its core is spiritual, and life goes on. May yours continue to be blessed!