Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Meaning of Easter

In a few hours I am to preach on the meaning of Easter to about 1000 people on the top of Aspen Mountain. In preparation I wrote a carefully worded and very safe talk that would educate everyone and offend no one.

About an hour ago, I awoke in my hotel on fire with a very different talk. I tried to sleep it off, but I couldn't. So I got up, went to my Macbook Air and feverishly wrote a new talk. I was taking dictation more than composing something of my own. When my fingers stopped typing, I was confronted with the speech below. This is the talk I will deliver at two different Easter services in the morning. I'm posting it now so I won't back down from sharing it later.

* * *

Easter is one of the most important holy days we humans have, and it strikes at the very heart of religion even as religion seeks to tame it to its own ends. Easter puts and end to our fear of death, the very fear that lies at the heart of religion itself.

The message of Easter, the radical message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, isn’t that he died for our sins—Jesus never made that claim, St. Paul did (Romans 4:25)—but that death itself could be defeated.

Jesus didn’t concern himself with death. In fact he courted death by confronting the government–sanctioned injustices of his own day. And he called us to the do the same. That is what it means to “take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). It means to challenge the powers—political, military, religious, financial, cultural, etc.— that exploit and oppress and corrupt, and which enlist us in exploitation, oppression, and corruption by promising to show us a way out of death if we would only conform to their way of life.

But there is no way out, there is only the way through. Easter is not about escaping death, but about defeating it. Jesus died. And then he came back, not that we might worship him, but that we follow him.

Fredrich Nietzsche said, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” Jesus showed us that even that which does kill us can make us stronger.

The cry of Easter is this: “The tomb is empty! Death isn’t the end! Be not afraid!” And fearless people are what scare the military–industrial–religious–media–financial–consumer complex the most. Their power depends on and feeds off our fear. Easter is the day to end that fear and break their power. Easter, like its elder sister Passover, isn’t about escaping from the injustices of this world, but about transforming this world with justice. And only fearless people can do this.

If you woke up scared this morning—fine. But if you leave this mountain just as scared, you’ve not heard the message of Easter.

If you want to know what difference Easter might make in your life, turn its message into a question and ask yourself this: “How would I live if I weren’t afraid?”

Make that question your gospel, your torah, your koan, your mantra. “How would I live if I weren’t afraid?” Turn that over and over in your heart and your mind until you are at last free.

This may not happen today. It doesn’t matter: the tomb is always empty. Death is always defeated.

Fearlessness is yours whenever you are ready to stop being afraid, whenever you are ready to stop worshipping Jesus and start following him.

Have a blessed and fearless Easter.


Unknown said...

People are always ready to take offense. This promises to be a very moving thought provoking and potentially life changing message. May they and we all be able to receive it.

Maggid said...

Rami! Thank you for sharing this. I'm about to shower up and give a talk at a local church . . Your early morning sharing has this maggid fortified.

To the mountain top - and beyond!
(borrowed from Buzz Lightyear)

~ Sil in Corea said...

Death has had his stinger removed. If we follow the idea behind the Kingdom of God, we see where the teachings of Gautama Siddhartha and Jesus intersect.

No One Special said...

This is the BEST Easter homily I've ever heard - and since your blog is one of only two spiritual 'communities' I have right now (Spirituality & Health being the other), I'm deeply grateful to you for avoiding the safe route and going for it! Such a blessing you are in my life, Rabbi!

Raksha said...

This is truly inspired - thank you!

Karen said...

I needed to hear this. Thank you Rabbi.

Yael Raff said...

Yasher koach!

Tricia Datené said...

I was at church this morning celebrating the resurrection as a life-giving, life-affirming act. Our pastor, Deborah, talked about living joyously and without fear. She mentioned several families in our congregation who have lived through terrible troubles, like the death of a child. They were able to walk through the darkness in order to find the light. This is what living without fear is about.

Without fear we are filled with the power and love of God. We can overcome evil and be the voice and hands of God.

Jesus died, but he overcame death. What a wonderful message that Easter brings.

Erick Reynolds said...

A very refreshing and inspiring point on the Easter message. Just when I was prepared to ignore Easter as superficial nonsense.

Erick Reynolds said...

A very refreshing and inspiring point on the Easter message. Just when I was prepared to ignore Easter as superficial nonsense.

Rabbi Rami said...

Thank you all for these comments. It was a humbling experience preaching this message, but the response on the ground (so to speak, we were many miles above see level) was very positive.

Unknown said...

Thank You for this wonderful message as a therapist I am consistently challenging my clients and myself to face our fears and move through them. Inspiring!